The tragedy of touch is a multi-sensory dive into the self, a collection of poems presented across a range of formats that invites the reader to explore their soul on a voyage through the emotional spectrum.
I open The tragedy of touch to be immersed in colours and Venn diagrams and aesthetic layouts, to prose that makes sense left to right and top to bottom, and think: I'll never wrap my thoughts around all this. But here it is - and this goes for everything Shiksha Dheda writes - the author walks with you, guiding and engaging with you and inviting you to see what's within; and not just the words on the page, but within the self.
For me, the challenge in Shiksha's highly accomplished chapbook lies not in the comprehension of its multifaceted elements, but, as it turns out, in having the courage to investigate my own inner workings.
I haven't studied poetry since school. I've read a lot, but not sought to extrapolate prose the way I was taught to: they used to urge us in class, 'What does the poet mean here?' We were forever interpreting the concepts delivered to us by the author. But reading The tragedy of touch (absorbing actually, because there's much more to this chapbook than just words on a page) I find myself exploring not what the author means, but what I mean. Because every line reflects back on me and sends me willingly into my introspection, and this is the genius of the writing here: it's fluid and it runs through me as a reader until I'm a part of its sentiments and its sentiments are a part of me. It's the skill of a writer who doesn't paint by words, but hands me, the reader, the canvas and brushes.
The intensity of the writing is immediate: Shiksha has invited me to explore the world she's created, but it's a world that exists within, a collision of thoughts and feelings that demand self-inspection of the soul. The tragedy of touch is a ride deep into the emotions, a very stellar example of the author's voice which is woven like a current through the prose: Shiksha's words are surrendered to the reader, to be absorbed and interpreted on an individual basis.
Throughout this 19-piece collection there's a tidal ebb and flow, sometimes soothing, sometimes heart rending, always powerful. A recurring sense of drawing to an edge and touching without grasp. Of slipping back, inexorably, to the realm from whence we came.
To begin with I meet Red, Shiksha's warm sunrise, and it's an element that will expand throughout the book to fill our emotions; I meet cool Blue, whose calming influence is at once guiding and heartbreaking, on a journey to eternity. Red and blue come together in Then there were two and Fresh air, ocular poems with two gently contrasting voices each reaching for the other, yearning for an understanding that never manifests.
I am lured in with visionary formats that switch on the bulbs of comprehension and then, just as I follow their sequence, the circuit flips and I find new meaning. Words run from left to right and top to bottom and can be read in two or three directions. These are poems and puzzles combined, literary conundrums that invite me to solve them. I'm up for air, literally, with Fresh Air (very different to the almost identically-named Venn diagram that precedes it) a traditionally formatted piece that is equally patent and beautiful, a simple tribute that speaks of relief from pain and a tonic to the soul.
This book is a visual and poetic pleasure but it isn't all one way or the other, image or text: the deeply sensual and heart rending Stardust is presented without diagrams, but the font descends in a staircase dripping with passion and despair. It's a poem which can be interpreted in more than one manner, as is the theme throughout this collection. I read Stardust on two separate readings and found distinctly but beautifully contrasting sentiments each time.
In Under(stand)ing and Understand me Shiksha draws red and blue closer still and invites me to further explore passion versus logic, and what happens when contrasting personalities come within touching distance, each clawing to assuage. Green is introduced, a voice of equanimity on this voyage that's pulling me ever deeper into my own reflection.
I continue into prose in which I become gladly entangled, through incarnadine emotions, cool rejections, colours and shapes and thoughts and feelings, through text and images (including the wordless Do I only want you, proving the author's competence to quite literally paint a display of emotion).
The journey - and if ever there was a literary journey it's this, because we begin in the depths of the cosmos and travel lightyears - transports me on through a middle earth of understanding and coexistence. The beautifully complex notion of counter-passions are explored in A negative and a negative make a positive, and I am taken to the edge of emotional acceptance but never quite beyond: the theme of reaching but never holding recurs, that pervading sense of nearing some vital discovery, but by now I've seen enough to know that the object may be beyond me.
I arrive with racing heart and rushing blood at the book's titular piece, a breathtaking work that is tragically poignant and speaks of the evanescence of love.
The journey is complete and whether it ends conclusively I wouldn't deign to divulge: not for fear of giving away a spoiler, but because, of course, my conclusion will be markedly different to yours.
And that is the beauty of The tragedy of touch. To read it is to learn about myself, a trademark that Shiksha Dheda has made her own. No poet I've read has the same ability to deliver words straight to the reader's soul, to allow me the space to explore my own spiritual components.
At least, I never came across one during all the years I spent reading the classics at school.