In her debut book of poems, knit together with personal essays, Mehta explores her own cultural history— Indian Jainism and American Judaism— as well as her ideas about faith, feminism, and family.
“Ankles Like Ancient Birds” from Forest with Castanets
I am musing for amusements,
Looking for something good.
Ancestral spirits back me up.
I am searching, and they are heaven-sent.
What is beautiful? It lasts an instant.
I hand out lists of lovers and reflections.
Someone writes me a letter in seismographic beeps.
This urn, that eclipse, a nightingale, all of it true—
I despise losing but do it masterfully.
(The dead pull on my ankles like ancient birds,
my soul, they think, in reach.)
And if sea sirens and shadow-making revelations
are stage tricks? If these are standard griefs?
“In a stunning elegy to her mother, Diane Mehta offers us a way to read her poetry, which is, clearly a way she regards the world: ‘a thousand commotions seem/ suddenly normal, her way of seeing/ sideways into the obvious’. Mehta, in Forest with Castanets, reminds us of just what striking poetry can emerge from an imagination disciplined and venturesome enough to take advantage of the rich, complicated histories that we are all given, and in doing this she manages to compose and sing the ‘sea-chants of dead immigrants’. Diane Mehta is a poet of unquestionable skill and authority who has learned to ground her poems in the most intimate and difficult institution, the family.”
“Candor and music are Diane Mehta’s great strengths as an artist, and with them she brings fresh, stereotype-busting insight to subjects like ethnicity, marriage, sex, religion, the multiple, intertwined horrors and gifts of the past: the force of the storm and the answering force of human struggles and constructions. It’s thrilling to read a poet who master that range of material so lucidly, in her own distinctive way.”
“The poems in Forest with Castanets are uncommonly lush—as pleasurable to the tongue as they are to the ear—but this work is also fearless about its passions, exploring family traditions and histories through the lens of what makes them and also what breaks them. Diane Mehta brings us a world that is 3-D vivid, whether it’s India where ‘A blue-hot, companionable wind/ Heated the land.’ or Brooklyn, where ‘Giant cranes crank up in Red Hook, reflecting back/ Unwieldy truths.’ I learned and felt more with every reread; Forest with Castanets beautifully captures, and makes emotional sense of, life as it moves so quickly by.”
“A beautiful book….Prose is tucked among her verse—I hope more poets follow her lead, and be generous with genre—making Forest with Castanets a uniquely arranged collection….” Read the full review here.
“In her innovative debut, Mehta explores the connection between place, memory, and sound, offering a vision of ‘ex-colonial hills,’ their ‘songs lilting,’ their ‘repetitions hell.’ Discrete poems and hybrid texts are unified by their vibrant sonic textures….” Read the full review here.
“…Forest with Castanets gives Mehta, and by extension the reader, time to move through the emotional moments that collect around a large event. This time is a kindness, one we are lucky to have Mehta share with us when life is so often cut short.” Read the full review here.