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Review of ‘Wrappings in Bespoke’ by Sanjeev Sethi

Back in August 2020 my intention was to use this blog to draw readers’ attention to debut collections, but as time went on I decided to vary the content by occasionally inviting more established poets to share insights into their new works. Well, they don’t come more established than Sanjeev Sethi. The quality of his work has rightly earned international acclaim and Wrappings in Bespoke (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2022) can only add to those accolades.

Perhaps the poem that provides the clearest insight into what to expect when one reads his newest collection is Wishes for a Child I Never Had. As well as being a statement of his view on the qualities that allow children to flourish in the ‘williwaw’ of life, I believe it also characterises the significant features of Sethi’s poetry. For example, in the second stanza he writes: ‘May the marrow in your bones be nourished by the vitamin/ of wisdom.’ The freshness and surprising nature of the imagery here is typical, but more than that the line highlights the insights that his poetry provides into the nature of the human condition. There is much wisdom to be found in these resonant, economical poems distilled into pithy lines that have the ring of aphorisms and which, without too much of a stretch of the imagination, could justifiably find their way into common parlance: lines such as: ‘Relationships like piano wire/ require skilful thrusts for tunable sounds to breathe’ (Selfdom); ‘To be is to bloom’ (Biog); ‘Proud/ as pismires, we flourish in formicaries’ (Metamorphosis); ‘loving without the privilege of parenthood is an essay/ in emptiness’  (Asafetida); ‘Insight isn’t an accident’ (Conversation with Self); ‘Bias is built-in/ the human chip’ (Panorama); and ‘Verisimilitude is ok. Who wants the truth?’ (In Twos).  The reader here is in the presence of a powerful, inspiring intellect which finds the language to cut through the complexities of human life and which prompts us to see new truths.

A second quality that Sethi wishes for the child he never had is self-knowledge: a need to know and be true to oneself. He writes ‘May you choose a domain that sways/ in cadence to the music of your inscape’ or as he says in Rigmarole, ‘The key is to find your centre.’ Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are many poems in Wrappings in Bespoke in which we see him engaged in self-reflection, but these poems do not stop at the level of the personal, these musings invariably have universal significance: they have something to say to us all. Take for example his poem, Loss and Other Lessons which tells the story of his first taste of grief (‘As though someone had/ punched my solar plexus’). His mother is in hospital and his father is attending the funeral of their grandfather. He is left alone at home with his sister. He remembers looking at her ‘for direction’, which she supplies by saying, ‘Don’t feel bad. Daddy is with God’. Immediately he was ‘allayed of ache’. He says he had learned the lesson of ‘Trust’: the poem uses his experience to point to the significance of the role of others in our lives, of the value of such relationships and of the significance of faith. In another poem of personal reflection, Leave-taking, he draws the conclusion that ‘We don’t need/ the descant of a dragoman’ for ‘time wraps in bespoke’. His own experience has taught him there are no set paths to follow in life and there is no-one reliable to tell us what to do, it’s up to us to forge our own way ahead, find our own direction.

A third wish Sethi makes for his imaginary child is ‘compassion’: to allow him/her to enter the lives of others.  A recurring theme in this collection is that of relationships. Sethi, however, is no romantic: his accounts of love are tempered by cold reality. He acknowledges that such relationships can be frequently unfulfilling and painful (Solus): they can deliver a ‘crosshatch of uncertainties’. One of those uncertainties is whether or not we can ever truly know that we are loved by those around us. In Junior Sethi seems to be saying that we cannot.   The grandmother in the poem tolerates her three year old grandson’s bothersome behaviour interrupting her sleep, because she interprets it as love, but Sethi writes that there is another possible explanation: ‘she is perhaps another plaything’. Yet despite these doubts, he suggests that we have no choice but to persist and connect with others. Solitude is not a viable alternative. The rewards of relationships outweigh the safety of ‘aloneness by choice.’ As he writes in Movement, solitude ‘prods him ‘to pylons’, symbols of connection that ‘suspire for itinerant members / of the corvine to stop over for deviations / in their dogleg.’  Though in the verb ‘prod’ there is a sense of an initial reluctance to affiliate, he describes relationships as ‘emotional travel’, suggesting a degree of effort, an effort, however, which is ultimately rewarding, an ‘excusrion’ which has connotations of pleasure and fulfilment.

Finally Sethi wishes the child ‘insight into the arts’. His collection proves that he has more than just insight, he is a master of his art. His inventiveness and control of cadence are consistently impressive. He makes every word count and he has a breath of vocabulary that leaves this reader in awe. There can be no doubt that Sethi is an extraordinary talent. It is no wonder that his work has found homes in over thirty countries. This is as close to poetry perfection as it gets!

Sanjeev Sethi has authored seven books of poetry. His last two: Strokes of Solace (CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal, Delhi, July 2022) and Wrappings in Bespoke (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, UK, August 2022). He is published in over thirty countries. His poems have found a home in more than 390 journals, anthologies, and online literary venues. Credits: Stand Magazine, Erbacce Journal, Litter Magazine, Beir Bua Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, and Outlook Magazine, among others. He is the recipient of the Ethos Literary Award 2022. He is the joint-winner of Full Fat Collection Competition-Deux, organized by The Hedgehog Poetry Press, UK. He lives in Mumbai, India. Find him: Twitter @sanjeevpoems3 Instagram sanjeevsethipoems

Copies available from Amazon.

Next week Stewart Carswell drops in to reflect upon his collection Earthworks.

Catch up with poets previously featured: Kathleen Kenny

Kathleen Kenny’s latest poetry collection, Plasticine for Girls (Hybriddreich, 2021), is a tour de force. Grouped together into four roughly equal parts: Plasticine for Girls; Rooms; Family Mould; and Never Forget; each section flows gracefully into the next, swaying forward and back, coming together as partners in life’s dance. Rooms from the past are given new life, restored in brilliant technicolour and transported to the here and now to rub shoulders with the present day and the unknown future. Characters who went before are reanimated, joined by the poet and all those ‘women searching in the cinders for clues to the conundrum that is life’ (The Cottage on Rafferty’s Close).

To buy a copy click here.


Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.

Kent’s poetry is succint, never bloated and always delivered with a poignant and very human point of view.Priss Bliss, Dreich Broad No. 3

For details of how to purchase a copy, click here


7 thoughts on “Review of ‘Wrappings in Bespoke’ by Sanjeev Sethi

  1. Nigel, I think you know I have read and enjoyed most of your reviews over the last couple of years but this review of the work of Sanjeev Sethi was, for me, on a different level. Technically a Tour de Force in terms of your choice of language, the manner in which you utilised it and the power with which it supported and reinforced the points you were making, but your choice of examples from Sethi’s work was so carefully considered and burnished your review and the points you were making. I think it’s the review I have learned the most from, both in terms of Sanjeev Sethi the man, and both the complexity and the simplicity of writing good poetry. It was a Masterclass sir, and I genuinely feel that you should collect such reviews for posterity in a published volume. Thank you so much Nigel, this was incredibly enjoyable!

    Best, Brian

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Brian, for reading Nigel’s exceptional review of my latest work. I agree with you that Nigel has studied my work and composed a compelling analysis. I’m thankful to him and readers like yourself for your interest in my work. This is a blessing.


  3. Thank you, Paul, for reblogging Nigel’s exquisite review to the popular The Wombwell Rainbow and for all the thoughtful things you do for us.


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