Devika Basu reviews ‘Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral’ by Kiriti Sengupta


“I consider poetry my existence”— it is indeed a revelation on the part of a poet who has coined chiseled words from the depths of his heart to present this poetic trilogy, Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral, a genre quite unique in literature. The book takes us into a world of subtle nuances, where the ‘sacred’ and ‘ephemeral’ unite to make a complete ‘whole.’ My Glass of Wine is full to the brim and we, the readers, drink the elixir “to the lees.” With his subtle strokes of brush, Kiriti Sengupta transports us to a world where the concept of divinity is definitely multilayered. “I drank it first/ right after I was spiritually baptized” — the concept of Christian baptism and Tantra, the drinking goblet of Christ, red wine and ‘somarasa’ — all these images are in perfect consonance with the poetic fervor of Sengupta’s well-researched work.

The poetic journey goes on and the poet makes the readers feel the agony of crucifixion, which is bloody, and thereby makes the color symbolism more appalling to the readers: “They pinned it before, and will do that now and again…/ No arrangements of incenses though!”

After having dwelt on a world of colors, and reflecting on the awakening of Kundalini (spiritual awakening) with a view to “unveil the mysteries of life,” Sengupta enters into the realm of profound philosophy with a candid incantation of scriptures, where human beings are presented as trees, as embodiment of the reversal. He writes, “Reversal demands practice of the principles that lead us towards truth or realization.” This is, in fact, an introspective journey into the human psyche where Sengupta has heard the sound of the ‘unheard’ in “all works imperishable.” This is a realization of not only the poet, but also of a very sensitive human mind, where we can hear ‘unheard melodies’ from within.

Sengupta has also dealt with the reversal of the so-called concepts of sex and sexuality. Sengupta has raised some pertinent questions regarding the transgenders, Lara being the mouthpiece. The story of betrayal, her desire and the aversion of the society towards homosexuality, lesbianism — all these burning issues bear a poetic resonance in the mighty pen of Sengupta. “You will call it fetish, I guess … I need some cologne as I step out of my home … odor that is mine … physical … deceptive.”

Sex and sexuality are the areas rarely discussed within the arena of family members and this self-imposed taboo often bears perilous consequences. While reading the poems in the trilogy, the readers might be reminded of the overtly sexual references:


I have matched my lips

With the highs of your water

As you flowed joy

The Sun has dared to surface

On your mirror playing both

A she, and a he toy.”


Sengupta himself has labelled some of his poems as ‘omnigender’ and has put into question the traditional orthodox ideas about sex and sexuality.

How is society related to literature? Is literature a mirror of the society? Sengupta has tried to answer these questions, referring to the recent conflicts and the vested interest of the war-mongers, which is in sharp contrast to the “dharma yuddha,” a struggle for justice as envisioned in The Mahabharata; and The Gita bears ample testimony to the fact. Therein lies the dichotomy of existentialism, depicted by the author.

In Healing Waters Floating Lamps, the concluding part of the trilogy, we discover the myriad hues of poetry, a journey “beyond the eyes,” with images of the holy Ganges, Varanasi, where “water is not the fire-extinguisher.” Evening descends in Varanasi as a symbol of meditative, serene landscape where flames ignite to utter words of devotion. The ‘floating lamps’ are resplendent with life and the images of ‘fire’ and ‘water’ add to the grandeur of the poem “Evening Varanasi.” In the concluding part of the trilogy, we come across some intimate details which owe their origin to the Wordsworthian concept of poetry as “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Sengupta pays tribute to his mother with such clarity of diction that we, the readers, are simply mesmerized: “I have seen my mother preparing Ghee out of milk/ She never used butter/ To clarify it further.” Sengupta has focused on the diversity of human life, moments of rapture as well as the pain of separation: “Not all rivers succeed to unite.”

An intuitive mind unravels the mystery of creation, the concept of ‘nothingness’ where the human body is confined within a ‘cage.’ The essential paradox of human existence depicted by Sengupta clearly reveals his profound knowledge of Indian philosophy.


The womb carries water — so do your eyes

Water builds the fetus

That becomes ‘I’


Sengupta’s confession is utmost here — the agony and ecstasy of creation portrayed in unequivocal terms. The deep-rooted sorrow, a sense of loss and bereavement touch the poet: “Few beautiful scratches deep within/ Soft marks, palpable even after months/ No wounds, but tiny scratches brown/ Soothing, mesmerizing in between.”

Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral is a poetic journey which enthralls the readers throughout; the temporal and the eternal converge within the poetic metaphors. The ancient scriptures, the Holy Bible are revered by Sengupta with proper diction. This poetic trilogy makes us think — we delve deep into the world where ephemeral becomes timeless and nothing is transitory. Even there is a positive note to enjoy life after death! Poetry is the alma mater of Dr. Sengupta and he has nurtured his verses with utmost care. As we go through his verses, we have an insatiable hunger to read more and we tend to build a bridge between poetry and life. As Sengupta started with an anecdote of Shesher Kobita, I may conclude my notes with Tagore: “Antore atripti robe/ Sango kori mone hobe/ Shesh hoye hoilo na shesh” [There will be a feeling of dissatisfaction/ Having finished/ We will feel/ This is not the end, but more to come].


Order your copy of Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral (Hawakal Publishers, Calcutta) by Kiriti Sengupta here:

Devika Basu is a high-school English teacher, bilingual poet, translator and a lover of Spanish literature. She loves to explore the hidden treasures of different literary genres, with a special focus to poetry. Her published works include three books of poems. Her pen scribbles the diverse aspects of life and she loves to face the challenges of life. She has traveled extensively and she would like to walk across the inroads of life with poetry.



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Penelope Shuttle



On the Quayside at Portsea an Old Salt Button-holes a Passer-by

…there‘s no one style of pirate ship, pal, sloop or ship-of-the-line,
we use any vessel we can get our hands on.
It must be fast though. The pirate code forbids me to tell you more.

Years spent in jail gave me a high regard for iron.
It is a master of power, structure, suspension, brutality.
An iron shirt never needs ironing.

Nowadays I like the air better… salty up-draughts and thermals,
clouds like sky-cloaked widow-women carrying harps of hornbeam and brass,
busy with their beautiful Acts of Pardon and Acts of Grace.

My fine ship The Monkey’s Fist has a compass for all weathers,
she’s been blessed by a famous painter, she’s goose-winged and trim.
Paso a bordo, amigo.  Out of harbour we’ll hoist the jolly blood-red flag,
I’ll read aloud from the bible to comfort you as we speed the flashing brine.




Penelope Shuttle lives in Cornwall.  Her most recent publication is Will You Walk A Little Faster? (Bloodaxe Books), May 2017.

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Story ending from 2017 FLY Short Story Runner-up 15-18 yr olds: Madeline Patrick (15)

Unperturbed, Lisa returned to her bedroom, burying her small, childish nose in her book where it belonged. She wasn’t concerned about Ollie; disappearances and reappearances of animals, people and objects were an ordinary aspect of Lisa’s extraordinary life.

Throughout the entirety of the small girl’s empty existence, she’d visited elves and faeries in a forest, then lived as an average girl at an average school. She’d go to sleep in a bed in Britain, and wake up on a canal boat in Italy. She’s had a brother, then a sister, then a pet cat named Tiffany. Every morning she lived a new life, with her presentness being the one consistent aspect of an ever-changing universe.

However, Lisa, despite being only twelve, was vastly intelligent. Therefore, sensible girl that she was, Lisa decided to rely on two things – stories, and her ability to create them.

Lisa devoured books. Her ability to read and read well was her weapon, and she wielded it without resistance. After reading her 50th book, Lisa decided it was time she wrote her own, as many ambitious and creative children do at some point. However, she struggled – writing was difficult when running from an army of stampeding elephants one second, and being in an ordinary house the next.

Therefore, it was on the day that Ollie faded out of existence that Lisa grew tired. Throwing her book to the floor, she lay, sprawled across her bed, and slept. As she slept, she dreamed of being a normal girl with one family, one home – the kind of girl that, to Lisa, existed only in stories.

As she was sleeping, she didn’t see the walls around her fade and vanish. She didn’t see her bed shimmer and disappear, or feel her now unsupported body land on the floor with a soft thud. Perhaps it was good that Lisa was sleeping, as it meant that she didn’t have to watch the disease of disappearance spread to her own body – her hands, her face, her legs, all of it crumbled, and everything filled with nothingness.



The author closed her laptop with a sombre click. It was strange, but she felt almost sorry for Lisa – the main character in all of her stories, no matter where or what or who else was involved, Lisa had been the character she felt the closest affinity with, despite her being purely a creation of the author’s own keyboard. As she wrote and rewrote, the author had changed her story so many times that even she had to admit it was time to begin again – A fresh story, with fresh characters, and no twelve year old, bookish girl who liked to create stories. Cracking her knuckles, the author lifted her pen and began to write a new story, about a boy called Ollie who loved mammoths.



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Story ending from 2017 FLY Short Story Runner-up 11-14 yr olds: Elizabeth Davy (13): The Box

Lisa shivered, mouth folding into a rigid frown. “Ollie, don’t you dare pull one of your stunts! Don’t you dare?” She paused expectantly, scanning the garden and numerous paths for a sign of movement. It was a trick: it had to be a trick. Cruel, thoughtless, traits corresponding exactly to Ollie.
Her brother would emerge, eventually, smug grin eating into youthful features, eyes wide with satisfaction, to splutter a feeble and somewhat predictable excuse.
Minutes passed.
Lisa frowned. She had to make an effort, an attempt to find her troublesome brother; perhaps she would scrape a punishment. Despite her lethargic mood, Lisa rose to her feet and staggered through the corridor. The garden seemed a logical place to begin. She dragged the front door into stunted motion and slid between the narrow gap, continuing along the pathway.
Her head jerked.
A box.
It was barely a shoe-box, constructed from bark-brown mahogany, surfaces pressed against Dad’s precarious fencing. It began to expand, to widen, as if triggered by her presence. Her hand outstretched, lingered fingers inches from the lid. Lisa found herself placing each food inside, expression vacant. Composure gad slipped from her grasp.
What was she doing? There had to be a rational-
The box glinted, a paranormal glow, just as Ollie had moments before his disappearance.
Reality seemed to entwine, to elapse.
Light faded into a rich darkness.
“Lisa! Lisa!”
Lisa gasped at the sight of her bedraggled brother. “Ollie, what on Earth have you done? You’ve take this too far!” She cried, snatching a glance at the wooden space. It resembled the box, only larger, deeper, a cruel imitation.
Lisa shook her head, dismissively. Her thoughts were tangled, indecisive, an incomprehensible mess of images and anxieties; the box had shifted her perception of truth. She scrounged for a source of light.
Ollie leapt into his sister’s arms. “I had to explore, to investigate. I followed the animals into the box,” he recalled. “It adjusted to my size. I clambered inside the box, expecting an innocent wooden structure. It’s a real-life Tardis.”
“It doesn’t make sense Ollie. The mammoth? The red squirrel? They’re not here.”
Ollie paused in thought. “I suppose the box cast them into a different place, a different realm. There could be other boxes, boxes just like this one, scattered across the globe,” Ollie explained, with a sudden and unlikely maturity.
“I see,” said Lisa. She longed to be home, secured within four walls, to fall into her mother’s embrace “Now let’s discuss the plan,” she posed. “You do have a plan, don’t you? You’re going to get us out of here, right?”
Ollie considered his response. “No,” he managed, looking to his sister. “I was rather hoping you would offer a solution.”
“I have nothing.”
Lisa gulped.
Realisation began to sink in. The siblings hadn’t a plan, a glimpse of natural light, a conceivable direction in which to continue.
They were trapped.

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2017 Discounted handling charge for 2014 entrants: IS&T/Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition

Entrants for the 2014 IS&T/Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition gets a 10 per cent discount on the handling charge for the 2017 competition. Please pay here and then enter the Paypal Transaction ID in your covering email as per our Submissions Guidelines.

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TWELVE: Slanted Poems for Christmas including postage to Australia:


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‘The Red and Yellow Nothing’ by Jay Bernard shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2016


In March, The Poetry Society announced that Jay Bernard’s The Red and Yellow Nothing had been shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry (2016). For Ink Sweat & Tears, a webzine with only a few print publications, this was a huge honour and although the eventual winner was Holly McNish’s Nobody Told Me, we can only thank the Poetry Society members who recommended Jay’s pamphlet and THA judges Jo Bell, Bernard O’Donoghue and Kathryn Williams for recognizing the spark in it.

From the judges: ‘This collection is an adventurous pilgrimage through style and form reclaiming medieval myth. It is beautifully paced with a musical momentum and demands to be revisited.’

From judge Kathyrn Williams’ introduction on awards night: ‘The pace and menace of The Red and Yellow Nothing has the horse pace of the ride of the Valkyries. It is time traveling through gender race and genre and is explored through an Arthurian legend – It reads like a song in my head.’


Joint Winner of the Café Writers Pamphlet Commission

The Arthurian tale of Sir Morien is the story of a young knight described as being “black from head to toe”, who rides to Camelot to find his father.

But what happened before this story began? Jay Bernard’s The Red and Yellow Nothing is a prequel that asks this question, and in the process meditates on the black presence in European art and culture, long before the invention of the divisive racial categories that exist today.

Morien’s story moves across genders, landscapes and centuries with references as diverse as William Dunbar and Kendrick Lamar. Patience Agbabi calls the collection “a psychedelic trip of genre and gender, fizzing with 600 years of wordplay.”



UK Delivery £7.50


The Red and Yellow Nothing originally came out of the 2014 IS&T/Café Writers Commission competition which Jay won jointly with Jon Morley.


Jay Bernard on writing The Red and Yellow Nothing. (From The Poetry Schools’ feature where each of the 2016 Ted Hughes shortlist is asked to blog about the writing process.)

…The Red and Yellow Nothing was like that. I didn’t realise what I’d written until I’d written it.

There are many influences. My introduction to the story begins with a quotation from Jessie Weston about the story of Morien in its current form – part of an idiosyncratic C14th compendium called the Lancelotcompilatie: “As it stands, the poem is a curious mixture of conflicting traditions.”

When I first started this project, I tried to be coherent. I tried to make it a neat confection of historical figures interacting with each other. And it didn’t work because the technical requirements of such a story are not neat.

The story itself isn’t neat, how could my interpretation seek to neutralise, formalise, make coherent?

More, including the influences of Kendrick Lamar, The Child Ballads and, we kid you not, Super Mario can be found here.



Reviews and Interviews: The Red and Yellow Nothing


‘The source text was translated into English by Jessie Weston in 1901. She commented, “the poem is a curious mix of conflicting traditions”. Bernard has more than lived up to the gloss. The pamphlet is a strange, lurid, baroque mash of tradition that calls to mind the “livingness” attempted by Hölderlin in his work with Sophocles’ Antigone. It does not stick with one style for long but is always dangerously alive…

…It is joyfully anachronistic (at one point Morien plays “the first computer game”). The world of the sequence is other, but complete. And the reader swallows each psychedelic trip. It is a magic trick to write back like this, into “the land before the story-o”, and for it to feel so crisp and alive and crackling.’

Edwina Attlee The Poetry Review Volume 107:2 Summer 2017


‘It’s incredible that so much has been fit into about 24 pages, including the handful of full-page illustrations by the poet, without feeling overburdened. The Red and Yellow Nothing has the feel of a heartfelt and intense investigation into something complex and significant, a true poetic quest, and one that has compromised little, if anything at all. It’s confusing, it’s challenging, it’s deeply satisfying, and it would be a real mistake to let such an exciting piece of work pass by uncelebrated.’

Dave Coates Dave Poems April 2017


‘For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?’ (W.H. Auden ‘The Night Mail’). Many poems have fallen underfoot in the forests of memory. Jay Bernard’s pamphlet makes brilliant use of one of these. Morien is a Middle Dutch romance; its hero, a Moorish knight. Bernard introduces her poem as ‘an inquiry into the idea of blackness in Europe’ before slavery.

This retelling of Morien is wildly appealing. Its opening (which can be sung) owes less to Le Morte d’Arthur than to topsy-turvy Disney, spiced with folk song in the style of the late great Kenneth Williams…’

Alison Brackenbury Under the Radar – Issue Eighteen


It is difficult to put a finger on the immediate aftermath of reading The Red and Yellow Nothing: there is puzzlement, rage, and wonder, but ultimately the sense that Jay Bernard has created a rare and beautiful thing. Part contemporary verse drama, part mythic retelling, the pamphlet – containing one long poem, broken into sections with stage directions – is framed as a ‘prequel to the tale of Sir Morien, son of Agloval’, narrating the backstory of the young Moor’s arrival in Camelot.

Theophilus Kwek, The London Magazine


The Red and Yellow Nothing is the story of a quest… or is it, and if so, for what? Jay Bernard has unearthed an Arthurian tale from a Middle Dutch poem of possible French origin, translated into English a century ago. Sir Agloval, a knight travelling in Moorish lands, meets a princess and then leaves her. She gives birth to Morien, who grows up and rides to Camelot in search of his father. He has some adventures, and there’s a happy ending… in the original.

In The Red and Yellow Nothing things go differently. I’ll talk about it in terms of the story, which is one way to give an idea of the variety in this unusual pamphlet. Adventures become experiments in time, space and identity, spinning out of a kaleidoscope of poem-episodes, leaving me dizzy and disoriented.

Fiona Moore, Sabotage Reviews


…Morien travels from Moorish lands to England to start his quest to find his father, in a sequence split into 13 parts, each starting with a stage direction. In II, the introduction suggests maybe we can empathise with the frustration one feels when the local people take one look at you, then hurry away from you before you’ve finished your sentence. Here, Morien asks a bard:

I'll fight you. Why don't you come out and face me and
fight me and tell me what you know? I've been riding since 
I don't know when, now I don't know where, 
why don't you come and face me. Everyone says
'I know not good knight where your father dwells.'

…The Red and Yellow Nothing is an exploration of identity, primarily through race, using its medieval setting to get away from modern labelling and to encourage readers to think about their own prejudices. The poems are rich in detail but remain mindful to need to progress a plot and tell the story.

Emma Lee, London Grip


Is ‘horrible’ horribly good?

I didn’t like this ‘prequel to the tale of Sir Morien’ but I can’t forget it, which must – I think – be sign of potency. What I remember best is the bit that appalled me most. That’s the way memory works: we have hotspots for disgust, sex, violence.

… I’m reminded that when I first met the word ‘allegory’ I thought it meant a story you couldn’t fully understand. And so it is, for me, with the The Red and Yellow Nothing. I don’t understand it at all but I can’t forget it. I wish I could.

Helena Nelson, Sphinx OPOI Reviews


Bernard turns the story of a lit­tle-known me­dieval knight into a fresh, witty and ex­cit­ing quest for iden­tity, in an imag­ined me­dieval world that is equal parts strange and fa­mil­iar. The poem is in­ter­spersed with gor­geous, richly tex­tured im­ages.

Diva (UK) 1 May 2016 (37)


…the two main readers were Jay Bernard and Jon Morley, both with new books. Both books are ambitious, many-sided. vivid and fascinating.

George Szirtes on Facebook after April 2016 launch of Commission pamphlets


Jay Bernard on The Red and Yellow Nothing

…I wanted to write something about blackness that wasn’t tragic, but still spoke to the situation we are currently in. The paradoxical nature of now: the way you can be erased, snuffed out, disfigured, distorted, while being privy to the remarkable insight that is only possible from the margins.

I thought that writing about black characters in a world before the construct of race as we currently know it would be a liberating move. I thought it might open up a contemplative space less weighted by the ballast of the media, and American media in particular. We are always expected to view ourselves in a certain way – and I wanted to present and view Morien completely differently.

Interview, October 2016 Poetry Spotlight


I wanted to write this pamphlet because I wanted to go backwards in history and begin exploring a time when blackness was not the thing it is today, when Moors culturally dominated the British, when race/racism had not yet been invented. There are some interesting scenes, such as when Morien rides to the beach and none of the sailors will take him because of his appearance. It’s very easy to read that as racism as we now understand it, but in the story [of the original Middle Dutch source] its pitched as a kind of stupidity…

Interview, April 2016, Speaking Volumes


Jay was also celebrated by Spread the Word as part of LGBT History Month, February 2017, in the United Kingdom, where they shared the poetry platform with Dean Atta, Sophia Blackwell and W H Auden as well as other noted poets!

The Young Poets Network in conversation with Jay here.

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