Book review-Ways of Being by Sati Mookherjee
Ways of Being
by Sati Mookherjee
MoonPath Press, 2023 (an imprint of Concrete Wolf Poetry Series)
reviewed by Bethany Reid
Ways of Being is Sati Mookerjee’s second book, and won the 2022 Sally Albiso Award in Poetry. As Rena Priest aptly points out, these poems take us “on a tour through emotional and literal landscapes as fluid as the tides.” Note the words landscapes and fluid, though I want to swap out “landscape” for ecosystem, which better evokes the junctions, the interplay between freshwater, saltwater, and land. In six sections and 32 poems, Mookherjee escorts us—confronts us—with this interplay. Our bodies are ecosystems, everything flowing, everything changing.
In an interview with Erica Reid for Michigan Quarterly Review, Mookherjee calls Ways of Being “a self-portrait”:
a portrait of confusion. It’s a portrait of those moments in which grief and loss alter us and we’re shocked and confused by that and asking, “Who are we, now that the old world is gone and there’s this new world?” It’s really a depiction of those moments. And as such the poems stutter, the poems take a step forward and take a step back. The poems are unsure, the language really reflects that sort of uncertainty.
That uncertainty, that gap, is everywhere present in this book. To lift a few lines from the long, opening poem, “The Great Lung of Bay,” it is “an ode to elisions, the occluded, the sun wadded / behind the gliding cloud.” What’s left out, left unsaid, normally overlooked, is given its due in these poems. In “Places I’ve Been,” for one instance: “Mudflats, streaked by fringes of residual tide. / [and] In the tall grass, a charm bracelet, forgotten.” But it’s no longer forgotten. It’s retrieved, etched here.
This attention to what’s lost turns up in playfully surprising ways throughout the book. In the opening lines at the beginning of “Mind the Gap!” (think signs on the London Tube), for one instance:
Oh, believe me, I do.
I mind the crack, the maw, the hole in the sock,
and the defect in the shoe. The pocket of gum
the tartar sticks to. Between grasp
and reach, between this shiny object
and that dull thing, between gravitas and gaudy
I want to highlight how Mookherjee turns the body into a metaphor for the world—Gaia comes to mind—but also works it vice-versa. What’s observed outside becomes a metaphor trove for the body. Consider these lines from “Sunset”: “Welted sky above a bruise-colored sea, weal / and stripe”; “Clouds like gauze bandages”; and, toward the end of the poem, “My blood loops in closed paths.” Ecosystems are bodies; bodies are ecosystems.
In a later poem, “Cage,” Mookherjee asks us to examine the ecosystem in our hands:
the turned page makes a microbreeze,
and the poem takes wing in the breath, or in the airspace
between eye and screen
A poet and lyricist, Mookherjee captures the flow of the landscapes and disrupted, interrupted bodies in her use of language, too. Ways of Being is a gorgeous, fluid, embodied collection from a poet whom we are sure to hear more from.
Bethany Reid has four books of poetry, including Sparrow, which won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, and Body My House (2018). Her poems, essays, and short stories have recently appeared in One Art, Passengers, Persimmon Tree, Constellations, and elsewhere, and her chapbook, The Thing with Feathers, was published in 2020 as part of Triple No. 10 by Ravenna Press. Bethany and her husband live in Edmonds, Washington, near their three grown daughters; she blogs about writing and life at http://www.bethanyareid.com .
- Sati Mookerjee website
- Interviews and Reviews of Eye
- MoonPath Press
- Bethany’s National Poetry Month 2023 blogpost about Ways of Being
- Bethany Reid’s poetry at Escape Into Life