Acrobat Poems by Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Indo-American Arts Council

Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee in conversation with Nandana Dev Sen on the book launch of

Acrobat Poems by Nabaneeta Dev Sen
May 8, 2021 at 8PM EST

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Acrobat Poems by Nabaneeta Dev Sen

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About Acrobat

A radiant collection of poetry about womanhood, intimacy, and the body politic that together evokes the arc of an ordinary life. Nabaneeta Dev Sen's rhythmic lines explore the joys and agonies of first love, childbirth, and decay with a restless, tactile imagination, both picking apart and celebrating the rituals that make us human. When she warns, "know that blood can be easily drawn by lips," her words tune to the fierce and biting depths of language, to the "treachery that lingers on tongue tips." At once compassionate and unsparing, conversational and symphonic, these poems tell of a rope shivering beneath an acrobat's nimble feet or of a twisted, blood-soaked umbilical cord – they pluck the invisible threads that bind us together.

About Author




NABANEETA DEV SEN (1938 – 2019) remains one of the most beloved, versatile and prolific Bengali writers of all time. Equally expressive in poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, she has nearly one hundred books in print, including compilations of poems, novels, plays, stories, memoirs, academic essays, children's literature, political columns, literary translations, and multiple volumes of her collected works. Educated in Presidency College and Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and then at Harvard, Berkeley and Indiana Universities, Dr. Sen lived a parallel life as a highly acclaimed international scholar and feminist, and a professor of comparative literature. Her many honors include the Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, Bangla Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, Big Little Book Award for Children’s Literature, and Lifetime Achievement Award of the Publishers' and Booksellers' Guild.

NANDANA DEV SEN is a writer, actor and child-rights activist. She translated Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s Make Up Your Mind, and authored six children’s books, translated into more than 15 languages globally. An award-winning international actor, Nandana has starred in 20 feature films from four continents, and in multiple languages. Nandana is Child Protection Ambassador for Save the Children, India. She has partnered with UNICEF, Apne Aap International and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to fight against child abuse, and to end human trafficking. Winner of the Last Girl Champion Award, Nandana has served on the jury of several child-rights commissions, global film festivals and international literary awards, including the DSC Prize.

Abhijit Banerjee

Good Economics for Hard Times

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee is the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2003 he co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, and he remains one of the Lab’s Directors. Banerjee is a past president of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development, a Research Associate of the NBER, a CEPR research fellow, International Research Fellow of the Kiel Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and a winner of the Infosys Prize.

Abhijit is the author of a large number of articles and four books, including Poor Economics, which won the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year, and Good Economics for Hard Times, both co-authored with Esther Duflo. He is the editor of three more books and has directed two documentary films. Banerjee has served on the U.N. Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. He is a co-recipient of the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his groundbreaking work in development economics research.


Praise for

Poetry and music are both languages of the heart, so it is a special gift when a great poet of the world is finally welltranslated. Here, the legendary Bengali poet, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, is re-birthed in English by her daughter, Nandana Dev Sen. I believe that Acrobat is a book that will rescue us and be loved around the world.
— Gloria Steinem

These translations of Nabaneeta Dev Sen's poems capture her quirky yet profound voice so beautifully that I felt I could hear her reading them aloud. These are the poems of an adventurous and indefatigable traveler, observing the world with deep understanding and sympathy, through the prism of a sensibility that is securely rooted in the culture of Bengal.
— Amitav Ghosh

These sparkling translations from Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s long, important body of work cycle through her (and our own) exigent concerns: time, identity, the familial. Dev Sen is famous for perfecting a remarkably clear syntax that incorporates sensual detail and repetition not as ornament but as the very ingredients of its riveting precision. And she always follows her own prescription: “Stay awake in every line.”
— Forrest Gander

There's an aching beauty within each one of these translations. There's assuredness balanced against vulnerability; there's dignity and compassion. Nabaneeta was an acrobatic writer, uniquely able to negotiate the tightropes of language, migration, separation, union and motherhood, one of the most brilliant writers that I ever knew.
— Siddhartha Mukherjee

In Nabaneeta Dev Sen's poems, she walks a tightrope between a black cloud and a cloud that is blood-red. When the rope shivers, you, the reader, can feel it in the lines and hold your breath. Good translations of modern Indian poetry are hard to come by. This one by Nandana Dev Sen has to be one of the best.
— Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Nabaneeta Dev Sen's Acrobat is that rare, majestic creature: a book that, through every page, underscores the quiet high-wire act required from the poet. It is a feat whose complexity is only matched by its mastery in inhabiting the multiple selves of artist, daughter, lover, mother, translator, scholar and more. Here are poems that capture the pleasures and trials of the human experience - desire, decay, mortality, childbirth, bereavement, wonder - with unsparing detail and sensitivity, and celebrate the gift of language which helps us transcend them.
— Karthika Naïr

One simultaneously hears the voices of mother and daughter in a duet of perfect harmony. The translations don’t read as translations; they read as poems, a new voice perfect in its own right, transcending the barrier of death.
— Wendy Doniger

Praise for
Nabaneeta Dev Sen

"Her pen unfolds a rare fluidity, an insight into human nature, a gift for satire capped with feather-light touches of humour."
— Times of India

"It was through her creative writing that Dev Sen gave herself a sovereign presence in the Bengali literary sphere . . . She was not afraid of baring her pain in the early poetry she wrote, nor did she ever compromise on questions of freedom."
— Dipesh Chakrabarty

"In her poetry, words are not symbols, not individualised characters, but sentinels that represent hopes, dreams, fears, and inner instincts."
— Uma Nair, Times of India

"Her spontaneity, unique style of expression, vast and varied experience of life are evident in her poems, short stories, novels, features, and essays. Her wit and humor, sense of detachment together with heart-to-heart sensibility give her writings a personal touch that is hard to ignore."
— Indian Library of Congress

"In prose, Dev Sen radiated warmth and joy, enlivened by her trademark self-deprecating humour and a robust sense of hope and compassion even in the direst of circumstances."
— Somak Ghoshal, Livemint

"One of the doyens of Bengali Literature . . . I got to read whatever little I could of what was translated in English. But I hope more is translated. I hope more people read her.”
— Vivek Tejuja

"A prolific, peerless writer who made worlds and words come alive."
— Raja Sen