The bar for contemporary, popular, and Instagram-worthy English poetry may have been set too low, so when Mehak Goyal’s (on Instagram as @mehakgoyal.poetry with 36,500 followers) debut collection of poems dropped in late July, it was a pleasant-enough surprise.
Titled Failure to Make Round Rotis: Poems on Rebellion, Resilience and Relationships, the book comprises of poems that speak of, as the blurb confirms, “the experiences of young Indian women today”.
The all too obvious title and the somewhat well-worn concerns of Goyal’s poems are salvaged by her sincere attempts at using white space (an unprinted, text-less area within the poem) and enjambments (a line flowing into the next, without punctuations directing them) to good effect.
Here’s an example of the latter, in the poem titled ‘Passport’:
"From the throng of pretty dolls –
all dressed in intricate red lehengas –
he picks me.
Checks the weight
of my gold case before
in a navy blue sherwani."
Also Read: Two new books that retell history in verse
Editorial intervention, especially with regard to the curation, however, has let the book down. There are over a hundred poems split across nine sections. This means that an as-yet-undecided reader casually flipping through the book can land on a particularly unflattering example of Goyal’s work—there are at least 30 such weak-links in the collection: weak in terms of theme or treatment, or both.
Accompanied by line-drawings by Shikhar Gaur, Goyal’s poems will appeal to a very niche target audience: urban and semi-urban women, say between 15 to about 23, who are just about starting to feel uncomfortable with the various gendered expectations surrounding them or are beginning to get angry at the instances of easy discrimination that are unfortunately not uncommon. Goyal also explores themes of insecurity and under-confidence, the idea of fitting in and/or finding authenticity, and also, ultimately a need for acceptance and love (of all kinds).
There are some sparks of energy in the latter sections of the book, somewhat resembling fierceness—in words and beliefs—and they come peppered with a little humour, too. But Goyal’s work is just not there yet.
Despite this, however, I’d say Failure to Make Round Rotis is welcome. It is an attempt, without trying too hard, to carve out a space for accessible poetry that can be popular, passionate—and not just immensely parodiable. The latter is unfortunately, an all-too-common understanding of contemporary, social-media-friendly poetry, thanks to the Rupi Kaur school of verse. Given this, the hope is that Goyal’s voice will come into its own in her next.
Line Break is a series that spotlights new books of poetry