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"the heart is an attic" by Srividya Sivakumar, reviewed by Dustin Pickering

“Wander my restless heart…”

Review of Srividya Sivakumar’s the heart is an attic

By Dustin Pickering

the heart is an attic

Srividya Sivakumar

Hawakal Publishers (2018)


In the heart is an attic, Sivakumar loosens the paradoxes of emotion and the roles we play in those emotions. For instance, she balances the role of being a woman in traditional society with being an iconoclast poet filled with rage and disquietude. One serious discussion underlying the work is the relationship between freedom and slavery.

            For example, in “The Merry Widow” the rage at being an unknown and misunderstood being, such as a poet, is evocatively communicated. Only the poet truly grasps that poetry is the foundation of life. As the final line speaks, “Someone’s walking on our grave.” This statement is bold but it reflects the aforementioned emotional paradox. The poet is balanced with the woman tending her domestic duties. In “Bystander”, the profile of woman’s being is deepened. Sivakumar writes, “now you conduct panel discussions / and my tears are a wall of silence and reproach.” She is able to create an analogy from being woman to being misunderstood generally as a poet. Her actual feelings are ignored for pointless diversions, and her poetry is carved into by critics who fail to see its merits and fullness.

            We are all human, equipped with similar desires and dispositions. Each of us feels misunderstood, neglected, and powerless to a degree. The human soul is deep and full of intricacies we wish to express. Poetry only can fathom these depths and put them in an artistic language. Because the world is overcome by population, a tax on leisure through exhaustion and overwork, and bored clichés, the poet seems like a trivial thing. Combine this with being a woman whose moral and emotional strength is ignored by a masculine world and you can get a glimpse of what drives the language of the heart is an attic.

            Another wish is elemental to these poems. “You do not text or call / or make any move to drive a distance / to come see me…” (“Ironic”, page 51) writes Sivakumar. This is damning of men. She exposes the beast within that behaves selfishly. She sees neglect and lack of initiative in men both as a social issue and an individual problem. In the same way she wants encouragement from the literary community, she wants a man to go the extra mile for her. In “Obituary” she unveils the true importance of her observations: “oh we all die this way / as a poet a lover in eternal disgrace”. She does not speak merely for woman or woman-as-poet, but as an analyst of human relationships. These lines declare that the final aim of all existence is a life of disgrace.

            Such an observation may reflect back to St. Augustine’s discovery of Original Sin. St. Thomas Aquinas, upon reflecting on Plato, discovered just how logical such an idea is. In “Lent”, this truth is embraced in a specifically Catholic symbolism. Two lovers meet at Christmastime and seem like godsends to each other. Love plays at being heaven and at the same time, a gift from heaven. However, the imperfections within humanity resolve into a devastating end, and the poet herself faces the darkest hour. “All the / colours fled, swept away by anger and regret. / i gave you up for Lent, i said. / i meant for life.” The ritual is complete. We must forgive and realize all becomes ashes.

            Permanence doesn’t appear too dominant a theme but the human condition is called for what it is. In “Congé”, the poet writes “take this soul that wasted so long / and this secret that it has kept.” In our innermost depths, our heart does its most pertinent adventuring. We come to know ourselves and hence, others. When we move outside of ourselves, we face that heated rejection we fear most. In this poem, the poet reveals her anger at lost time and the dissolution of a long-time relationship. In her inner world, she can be purely honest with herself. As poet she can communicate her heart. When she faces the real and actual world of reality, these things no longer matter. We cannot bend the will of other people. The poet writes, “Love is a tchotchke.” In this poem (“Tchotchke”, page 35), she also writes, “But the entrance into this world of mixed tastes and deep heartbreak, is often, almost always, a quick trolley ride down an aisle full of mines.” Here we face ambiguity, the confinement of choices, and the confusion of a multitude of choices. The poet reveals the reality of love as volatile and fickle, thus exclaiming it as something with neither anchor nor guarantees. This is an essential human truth we pretend doesn’t exist.

            Finally, Sivakumar creates an intriguing metaphor for life using daily routine. The poem “Impressionist” disguises a mild cynicism but also curtails in a revelation of beauty. Life requires illusions to soothe desperation, but these illusions skirt the actual truth. T. S. Eliot wrote that we can only handle so much reality. Those who deny the presence of illusions are the worst sort of megalomaniacs. Too much sensory data leads to fight-or-flight reactions. Knowledge seems like balm in Gilead but, like love, it is only such as illusion. Ideal forms are not substitutes for the things-in-themselves.

            The heart is an attic is an enjoyable read for its feminist rage and symbolic realism. In writing this collection, the author dives in and reveals herself in lucid honesty. You may find hidden gems of passion in this slim volume. Attics hold the priceless artifacts of our past experiences. As you climb through Sivakumar’s attic, you may recognize something of yourself. Attics also accumulate dust and spider webs. As you enjoy these verses, wipe away the refuse and relish the language. It signifies a distance between Self and Other, Reader and Author, and Subject and Object. It is more than an awakening of consciousness. It is an awakening of identity. 

Dustin Pickering is Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal, Harbinger Asylum and founder of Transcendent Zero Press.


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