Book Review – when the flowers begin to speak by Sonali Pattnaik

Publisher – Writers Workshop. Year 2021

Review by Smeetha Bhoumik

when the flowers begin to speak by Sonali Pattnaik, is a resplendent collection of poems drawn from lived experience, deeply reflective of personal truths. On the wings of such brilliant poetry are unveiled universal human connections. 

Arrival at moments of joy ensconced in bliss and bounty, in marvelous vistas of love, is often mapped out only after stormy arduous treks over winding slopes of pain and suffering, and onto healing and regeneration that the poet has to chart for herself.  

The collection is presented in four sections – ‘ripped. reckoning. reborn. risen’, which represent the passage from darkness to light, from abuse to healing and blossoming, from spaces of loss to regaining glorious open vistas of love and belonging.

lines from rite of passage

for wings to take shape

there must be first wound

and then there will be flying

and then there will be flowers

This collection holds a light on how to wield pain. The way one may make space for pain, embracing it fully and then illumine it with words. The grace with which one may honour loss, is embodied in heartfelt, poignant poems. Little wonder that this remarkable collection is so warmly received with awards and accolades. 

some lines from in case of abuse

there’s a queue of people who

have been beaten to near death

I can’t be listening to you —

broken by words?

surely that isn’t abuse!

words, not sticks or stones

words straighter than sticks

heavier than stones broke my bones

but how do I bring my body to prove

that which it has become?

To endure pain and experience it fully, to face it every moment however much it hurts, takes courage and endurance. To take up the pen and write about it in detail, reliving moments, honoring memories, is a poetic act of sublimation, and it transforms the poet and her journey, 

quoting from voice

when I finally spoke it shocked some/ to learn that soft could burn stone/


….but you spoke too/ and your voice overtook all/



voices are voices/ only as heard/ I listened to my own words/and then my voice overtook all



from civil code

it keeps truth well hidden

inside coats and quotes and meat roasts

all embraced with frivolity

alongside liberal helpings of bragging

about kindness and equality

words whose burden is marked upon

and quietly borne by a handful

of women and children

who are not on television screens 

but participating right beside you…

A poem is born as the poet sets out to own her experiences in creative ways, and the sun comes out in a new world!

from harm and healing

and then miraculously

as you begin leaving

it begins to heal

As a set of searing poems, it promises to open up the skies and our collective conscience in flashes of lightning insights, that awaken, reveal, empower and heal. It is a journey into the self, of reckoning and regaining lost landscapes.


hollowness is a thing


the more eviscerated the soul

the less conscience rings

there’s nothing to see the emptiness with…

In reading this collection of feminist poetry, one is given the opportunity to reconsider long held attitudes and dearly loved notions that do not serve us anymore. 

Flowers as a metaphor, accentuates her multi-hued firmament of vulnerability- strength-resilience-compassion-beauty, a rigorous aesthetic that defines the feminine.

A correspondence between flowers and the feminine came about ‘both instinctively and intellectually’ says the poet, it symbolizes her ‘kernel of truth’. (The discussion took place at our session ‘Writing As Bridges’, at APWT, Bangalore, Nov 30, 2022, where we dwelt on poetics, the feminine, craft and translation).

In love

and stars falling like rain from above

everything is possible 

in love

Her poetry erupts like the dance of raindrops on leaves, at once exuberant and poignant. Poignant in the way it is wont to drench and soak the landscape of our thoughts that normalizes imperfect behavior, and exuberant for its resonance, how it holds true today….deeply, undeniably, an excruciating reality we must face. 


howling without a sound

then a realization

a silent tug

a desire to rise again 

to swell with each tide



and through it all, the learning

and through it all, the gathering

The poems in this collection are born of the union of two facets of the human experience  – intense joy and happiness, a blossoming on one side, and on the other, heartbreak, loss and erasure.

lost and found

words, still mountains

that left me breathless on the climb,

had begun their return

Clarity of thought and elegance of expression, together, when brought to bear on life’s most obfuscating and trying situations, bring sudden insights, like a burst of light, and the human mind-body continuum is able to invest meaning through artistic expression. It may then reinvent itself in powerful ways. 

This collection of poems is a testament to that. 


light will come through,

drowning all your sound and fury…

writing as witness
writing is memory
that you don’t know you possess
it speaks against the erased
inscribing in long strokes
the caves of silence in your mouth

And after the storm, under rainbow skies drenched with hope, when tiny fingers are clasped in hers (she, the mother), her warmth, her love, her belonging is conveyed in waves of assurance to her little girl, and a life-long confidence is born. An inseparable identity takes shape – mother, daughter, mother-daughter, each making the other…every moment…in new ways.

Identity in non-separation (a poem I’ve had the privilege of translating into Hindi)

I know when i see her

speak calmly and proudly

of just who she is

that my love for her

is the fount of her self-love 

the cornerstone of her dialogue 

with all the world

On opaque, shadowy, rough panes of life’s windows clouded with inequality, the lens of a feminine awakening brings much needed visions of abundance, renewal, a burgeoning of joy and compassion, creativity and security.


soft is the gate

through which love enters

take down the fence

between you and your self

Many of our existing norms and paradigms are akin to being square pegs for round shapes, insistent on values that aren’t innately hers…suppressing her unique, distinctive gifts of the feminine. Rooting for competition when collaboration is the key, is just one of them.

missed train

for what is love but a missed train

and its waiting.

It is said that difficult times make one stronger, and that suffering makes one kinder and wiser, just the way gold forms in a furnace. 

fairy tale

but the monster never understood 

the curious workings of love

the bond got stronger with every hack

till the last one broke a clear path…

If it weren’t for oppressive forces and age-old inequities binding women, they would not just be safe, but their gifts would find greater expression in the world around, benefiting society in innumerable ways, making it grow in leaps and bounds.

Sonali’s exquisite poetry and inspiring ideas light up inner landscapes – with a rich promise of new worlds!

Concluding on a fond hope that the magnetic force of her feminine thoughts and the allure of her erudition and scholarship, opens up new doors of understanding among people.