South African novelist and essayist Pauline Jansen van Rensburg reviews Rita Banerjee’s debut poetry collection Echo in Four Beats for current issue of The Quarterly Conversation. In her review, she writes:
“Rita Banerjee´s debut poetry collection, Echo in Four Beats, published by Finishing Line Press, is a modern feminist re-interpretation of the myth of Echo and Narcissus from Ovid´s Metamorphoses. Echo in Four Beats performs at the intersection between classical Greek and Indic myth, gender politics, political oppression, Vedic and Buddhist philosophy, and deeply personal narratives through verse redolent with tonal originality. The collection is not exclusively centered on the rampant narcissism of our times, nor is it just an appeal to reclaim an authentic female narrative free of patriarchal heteronormative echoes—its contemporary topical significance also lies in its rally against the discourse of capitalistic ideologies and the damaging heritage of colonisation. The collection encourages the reader to ponder the transformative and transcendental power of art and spiritual consciousness.
The title Echo in Four Beats alludes to the Greek myth and references the four distinct waves of feminism that have culminated into a global crescendo today. Hence, the fourth beat may be perceived as analogous with the fourth wave of feminism, which promises to become more intersectional, more open to debate, and more transformative than precedent waves. The cover is suggestive of The Women´s March in Washington, DC. It depicts a crowd of women cupping their hands to their mouths to enunciate and receive wisdom back. The women move and surround a reclining Satyr, the infamous Barberini Faun, from the entourage of the God of Ecstasy, Dionysus, who is narcissistically confident in his lascivious abandon and powerful aesthetic beauty. He is seemingly oblivious to the throngs of what could be revolutionary women around him, uniting to take back the mic and reclaim their own voices.
The fundamental Vedic and Buddhist religious concept of Saṃsāra, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘wandering,’ and denoting a spiritual journey towards enlightenment through the cycle of life-death-rebirth, acts as a blueprint for the structure of the collection. It transposes onto the first three beats, which correspond with: Brahma and creation, Vishnu as the preserver or sustenance in the second beat, and Shiva, the destroyer and destructive transformation in the third beat. The fourth beat explores what liberation from this cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction might look like and the poem ‘Beyond Saṃsāra’ ironically suggests the possibility of women regaining their freedom from past destructive cycles.”