Dreams That Spell The Light

Image of book cover for title Dreams That Spell The Light
Arc Publications, UK; 2010
ISBN Number
978-1906570-05-7 (Hard Back) / 978-1904614-61-6 (Paper Back)
£10.99 (Hard back) / £7.99 (Paper back)
Purchase from shop

Dreams That Spell The Light is Shanta Acharya’s fifth collection of poetry. The poems are meditations on life’s journey, of leaving and returning: “We travel not to explore another country/ but to return home fresh, bearing gifts.” She reflects on her travels, real and imagined, of confronting change, accepting loss, of recognising a permanent state of exile, of the impossibility of returning to things the way they were, of growing up, of understanding our place in the universe. As with all her previous collections, there is wit, humour, irony along with a sense of life’s immense possibilities.

Select Poems

The Great Wall of China
Gasps of wonder, flash of cameras, the bling-bling of tourists, sound that light makes reflecting

Off chrome, platinum, diamond or silver;
not the silence of stones, earth, blood and tears.

Forgotten the story of each farmer in the making
of a fortress, facing up to one’s enemies; climbing

Steps like a soldier. Each tower inscribed
with the names of families, villages that sacrificed

Sons, the strong serving best the season, its purpose.
The weak and diseased immured in these
fortified walls; some considered it auspicious.

The voices of missing children trapped in posters
echo among the surrounding orchards of apricot trees.

Women hold vigil for their stolen offspring,
faces lit by lanterns flicker in the breeze.

Silent stares transmit stories to strangers;
secrets survive under the skin like viruses.
Every child gives birth to a mother.

Empty arms haunted with memories
of sleepless nights hear silent screams

Of skeletons in unidentified graves waiting
to be laid to rest; daughters disappearing like dreams.

Time sits on its haunches, Laughing Buddha;
indifferent the lofty ranges of soul mountains.

Easter Message
Swathed in a dirty shawl, embracing large bundles of carrier
bags like dead infants in her arms, she sits in the carriage
indifferent to the Underground destinations we tunnel through.

She speaks to herself in a language I fail to decipher,
her direct gaze into my eyes reminds me of my mother.

Another commuter leans forward as if to answer her questions,
thinking she asked for directions; a foreigner lost in the Tube.

Life taught her never to depend on the kindness of strangers...

Her eyes are nomad, her words nonsense. He listens, she smiles.
For an instant they try to converse.
A refugee from Croatia, Kosovo or Albania, she is a survivor.

We hear the words but do not understand her story.

She pauses briefly and chuckles on her fate
before she starts like a scratched record all over again.

I get off at Victoria; the carriage disgorges
itself and gets choked again. She sits there oblivious
to stations and announcements on the Circle Line.
The Dream
The road ends abruptly like an unfinished sentence,
no sign-posts, no explanation; a dirt road
washed away in the rain, in the middle of the night,
in the middle of nowhere with no one to guide me there.

The landscape is luminous merging with a sky
showered with meteors, a celebration with fireworks.

I sit dazed in the car, locked like a jewel in a safe,
a garden enclosed, a well sealed up
waiting for someone to break into my solitude,
to disturb my peace, carry away the burden

Held secret all these years –
except I can no longer remember what it is.
The Wishing Tree
Children conspiring around the ancient
tree trunk encircle it with their voices
clamouring to cover branches with tinsel –

Calligraphically scripted dreams,
poems of love, coins at the bottom of a well,
prayer flags at monasteries
along foothills of Himalayas.

A father hoists his son on his shoulders
tall as he leans to tie a prayer on a wing;

Mother and daughter, hands outstretched
cast dreams that spell the light:

If only I could walk
in the hearts of my enemies…

Let father be able to speak again…
Let my sister regain her sight…

Let mother come home soon from hospital…
Let my brother who left home a year ago return…

Let me learn to love without limitation …
Let there be peace in our lives…

May God hold us always
in the palm of his hand

My ideal partner would be someone like my self –
preferably never married; will settle for divorced
or widowed with children but with the right chemistry.
Tall, dark, slim and romantic; must have a GSOH.

Kind, understanding, generous, loyal, trustworthy,
goes without saying. Financially, emotionally secure;
well-educated, thoughtful, a man of action he must be.
Non-smoker, occasional drinker, must enjoy good food;
but be prepared to eat anything unless he wants to cook.
Must like reading, travelling, have a passion for Life.
Religion? A Brahmin would be nice but not essential.

I wrapped my expectations with a neat summation:
Don’t have a fixed idea of what I want, but know that
when we meet, I will know and so will he...

Having spent one balmy summer evening registering
I decided to cool off with a glass of chilled wine
thinking of the beautiful boy doing his best in time.

But I received a response straight away:
No matches found; change your criteria; be realistic.

That my ideal man was not found was a blow I confess.
It doesn’t mean such a man does not exist
I reasoned pulling my self-esteem back into harness.
He is simply not registered with this agency!

Having determined to do something about it
I persisted in my pursuit of Mr Almost Right.

Must try other agencies, cast my net wider;
mean while, no harm in checking out what’s on offer,
be less fussy, let karma in on such a deep matter –

Age: Doesn’t matter; Marital status: Doesn’t matter.
Children: Doesn’t matter; Country of residence: Doesn’t matter.
Height: Doesn’t matter; Education: Doesn’t matter.
Religion: Doesn’t matter; Occupation: Doesn’t matter.
I was inundated with suitors, crashing my computer.


The poems in Dreams that Spell the Light adhere to Elizabeth Bishop’s prescription: “accuracy, spontaneity and mystery”. 

Anne Stevenson

Dreams that Spell the Light is about voyaging through life, returning home and finding it changed, about confronting change and absences, about continents left behind, and a search for signs and ‘scripted dreams’ that remain dreams. It is a book about secrets being locked up in sealed wells, and a “desire to fly free, not nailed to a mast.” Shanta Acharya speaks of self-doubt and self-realization, of the cussedness of reality, of bonding with nature and of “love under starlight/ brittle with frost and the sharp taste of blood.”

Keki Daruwalla, Ambit

The poems in Dreams That Spell The Light are most unusual; bold in their spiritual sense, intense in their vision of landscape. It is a remarkable book which can revive a tired reader’s vision, and alter their understanding of what poetry can do. I shall certainly think again about the scope of poetry – it’s easy to settle for too little.

Alison Brackenbury

This book offers a kind of reconciliation or acceptance of London, and perhaps even England, without ever turning away from India. “A Place for All Seasons” is a case in point, because as well as dari, purdah and shamiana, it contains sturdy oaks, a maple tree, jazz and a minuet. This is what you are, this is who you have become, and it’s a delight to read. In poems like “The Dream”, “It” and “Somewhere, Something”, you transcend the accident of your origin. Incidentally “the wind-tickled chimes of a charm of finches” (“Highgate Wood”) is an absolutely great line, worthy of Dylan Thomas at his best….

Letter from Mark Abley

In one of the finest poems in this collection, “Going Home”, which is for Doris Lessing, Shanta enters again into the ambiguity, the enigma of home and exile. Doris Lessing, too, had to create a life in another country, far from where she had spent her youth. “You look at things from different angles,/ lying in the grass singing, summer before the dark./ “Every survivor needs a memoir, a golden notebook;/ writing a habit of loving, like breathing./ All of us are shaped by war, twisted and warped,/ our inner battles spilling out from under our skin;/ Our body, the old chief’s country, landlocked –” This is an exceptional poem, linking the loss of an imagined or known life, to the inner battles that warp or heal us, and the link to the world claimed by the writer. Writing itself is an act of survival, a way of healing oneself of the regret or pain or fever that wracks our beings. Shanta Acharya draws us into her experience, and her inner conflicts with her charged, lyrical writing. She searches for “dreams that spell the light.” For the illumination the seeking inner spirit always dreams of. For the epiphany of “Language that is water, air, light, earth/ shining nerves spread out like angel wings;/ sun in water shimmering, the aura of kings,/ earth a mirror for what cannot be seen.”

Anna Sujatha Mathai, Indian Literature

These are poems of intense joy, where the author is completely at home with herself, and at one with the natural world surrounding her.

Lakshmi Holmstrom, Confluence


  1. Agenda Poetry, Vol 46, No 3, “A Way of Seeing.” By Martyn Crucefix.
  2. South Asian Review, Vol 32, No 2, 2011. By Jaysinh Birjepatil.
  3. Muse India, Issue 38, July-Aug 2011, “A search for spiritual equilibrium.” By Anita Money.
  4. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Vol 47, No 3, July 2011. By Kate Marsh.
  5. Wasafiri (UK), Issue 65, Spring 2011. By Birte Heidemann.
  6. Biblio (India), Vol XV, No 3 & 4, March-April 2011. By Keki Daruwalla.
  7. Confluence (UK), Spring 2011. By Lakshmi Holmstrom.
  8. Indian Literature (India), Number 260, Nov/Dec 2010. By Anna Sujatha Mathai.
  9. Ambit (UK), Number 202, 2010. By Keki N Daruwalla.
  10. Artemis Poetry (UK), Issue 5, November 2010. By Maggie Sawkins.
  11. Kavya Bharati (India), Number 22, Winter 2010. “Evoking Place and Space of Here and There.” By Prof Cecile Sandten.
  12. Exiled Ink (UK), Issue 14, Winter 2010. By Anita Money.
  13. The Hindu Literary Review (India), 4 Dec 2010. “Inner journeys.” By K. Srilata.
  14. Poetry Review (UK), Vol 100: 3, Autumn 2010. By Jane Holland.
  15. Orbis: Quarterly International Literary Journal (UK), Vol 152, Summer 2010. “The Real and Ideal” By Lance Lee.
  16. The IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature (India), Vol. II, No. 2, July 2010. By Lakshmi Holmstrom.
  17. Amazon.co.uk, Review of Dreams That Spell The Light. By Lance Lee.
  18. The Book Review (India), May 2010. “Learning from travels.” By Ketaki Kushari Dyson.
  19. The Manchester Review. 4 May 2010. By Edmund Prestwich.