Book Review: Kshanti by Wendy Stern

A Three Drops Review

Kshanti by Wendy Stern

[Reviewed by J.S. Watts]

 

Kshanti by Wendy Stern (and published by Poetry Space) is a posthumous collection. According to the foreword written after her death by the poet’s father, “It was towards the end of her life that my daughter Wendy Stern began to compose poetry… much of Wendy’s poetry reflects her physical helplessness and her own response to it – indeed, the Sanskrit title she chose for this collection, “Kshanti,” means “patient endurance.” But what gives her writing its particular strength is the way it turns the suffering and the frustration into a basis for spiritual growth”.

The seventeen poems in this pamphlet are rooted in the Buddhism that apparently played such an important part in Wendy Stern’s later life. These are not poems of myth, legend or fantasy, but a personal and real search for spiritual enlightenment, as demonstrated in this concluding extract from the poem “Slowly, slowly”:

“Then slowly, slowly
I come to see you
And slowly, slowly
I come to know you
And slowly, slowly
You come to free me

Will I ever be wise?”

By the end of her life, Stern was completely bedridden and because she could not write, type or read text, she would dictate the poems and then edit them aurally. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that a significant aspect of this poetry is its sound. Repetition and echo are a feature of many of these poems, creating a mantra of both hope and despair and resonating with a sub-aural Buddhist chant, as in the poem “Continuum”,

“As each cell dies,
And gives birth to another,
As each breath dies,
And gives birth to another,
As each thought passes,
And gives rise to another,
We offer peace.”

The deceptive simplicity of the language in the poems contributes to the emotion of the pieces. Knowledge of the poet’s condition whilst writing these poems, and of her eventual fate, adds additional layers of depth and gravitas. The feelings and struggles played out on these brief pages are genuine and at times raw.

Powerlessness

I will have to, it seems,
Shed my skin for you,
And let it fall to my feet,
So you may see the very bones of me.

Make of it what you will,
For I will have nothing left to say then.

All out of forgiveness, you see.”

Collected together these fleeting poems form an honest exploration of a painful aspect of the human condition and the one-way journey that we all take eventually. Stern’s journey, as reflected in this pamphlet, was shaped by her personal quest for acceptance, endurance and enlightenment, as well as the heightened Buddhist spirituality that is so clearly and simply expressed within these delicate poems.

Kshanti is available to buy at £5 from the Poetry Space website.

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