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Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You

Meena Kandasamy

Atlantic Books (2023)


Review by Shara Atashi


Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You is a poetry book with attitude and backbone. Like the ocean – now turbulent, now whispering, but never voiceless – it will take you through the defiance and fragility of a woman who gives her all and risks everything to create equilibrium. 


The book is well structured. It reads like a memoir. Events that shaped a human and a poetic body, although they arise from the particular situation of the Tamil population, carry universal insights. The story matters to any part of the world that is troubled, to any place where fascism and censorship are slowly creeping in. You’ll meet the dramatis personae of a female poet, her comrade, lovers, friends and country. And you will learn from Kandasamy how to address horrifying historical events in poetry that crystallises what’s exciting and painful, and how you can make people listen.

Kandasamy uses everything at her disposal – voice, language and form – to interweave documented reality and to prove that poetry is present in everything, even in true horror. In ‘A Poem on not Writing Poems’, she uses poetry as a stage on which the true story of a lynching, both in its unutterable cruelty and the fear instilled by persecution, threatens to obliterate any purpose for the artist. But, to re-establish purpose, she rewords Wittgenstein’s philosophical aphorism (‘whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’) through the question ‘why show the scar on your thigh to strangers?’ Horror stories scar us for life, whether we tell them or not.

Kandasamy invents and reinvents forms through her voice. Sometimes the form dominates, sometimes the voice rushes with momentum to take its own form as water does. Where she uses non-rhyming iambic meters, the poems are absorbed by the reader’s whole body, by instinct, by the guts, just like lullabies. ‘A Cat Closing Her Eyes’ recycles the Tamil proverb ‘when a cat shuts its eyes, the world does not turn dark’. The musicality of the original, ‘poonai kanmoodi kondaal’, and its repetition in every stanza, soothes like a villanelle and clings to memory immediately. That’s an example of how Kandasamy, as a poet, knowingly plays with her reader.

The poem that gives the book its title,  ‘Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You’, is dystopian and scary without subsuming the many facets of the book as a whole. Unlike revolutionary poetry calling masses to the arena, this one cautions to go underground. It’s about total darkness. About fascism using cowards, guns and prisons for money and power. Those who protest loudly will be exterminated, including ‘your children, and your children’s children’, and no one will be left to preserve humanity, therefore ‘Long Live Silence.’

Kandasamy has explored silence before. In her celebrated poem ‘Aggression’, she observes:


Ours is a silence 

that waits. Endlessly waits.


the outward signals

of inward struggles takes colossal forms

And the revolution happens because our dreams explode.


Kandasamy has not been silent; she has somehow got away with holding up a      mirror to hidden rebels, and scarred women, so they can, as in the poem ‘Finding You’, ‘build back the patchwork dolls’ they have become, to be full  people again.