Of Gardens and Graves by Suvir Kaul- A review

of-gardens-and-graves-front
Click on the image to check out the book

Editor’s Note:This is our first review of an essay collection alongside poetry.
__

To read “Of Gardens and of Graves” is to witness the coming to life of Yeats’ famous line: “A terrible beauty is born”. It is to be reminded, if ever a reminder was needed, of the lingering pain that seeps slowly and eternally through the flooded scars of Kashmir, the scowl of the last half a century that darkens the fate of every subject, born under the auspices of its melancholic sky. It is hard to classify the book into a genre as it repudiates traditional hierarchies by refusing to be neatly categorized into one – it is simultaneously a memoir, a critical commentary, an anthology, collaboration, and a history all rolled into one, held together by a single source- Kashmir.  An arbitrary classification of the book structure could be that the book comprises of three basic divisions: Essays, translations and photographs. On a reading, though, the narratives under each rubric just blend with each other, without any manifest hierarchy.

However, the essays appear to be tied loosely in a structural evolution, and so it appears fit to discuss them first.  The first essay ‘Visiting Kashmir, Re-learning Kashmir’, explores the identity politics of the valley through a biographical tilt. As the comma in the title suggests, the essay is explores the neat schism between the two eras of Kashmir: pre and post 90’s, an idyllic prelapsarian world of nostalgic summer vacations, harmony and beauty, and a postlapsarian world of bullets, blood and trauma. Unlike most such narratives of Kashmir, the essay doesn’t delve into a comparison of the two states to lament the loss of the idyll and place them on isolated axes of disconnect. The fallacy of nostalgia that Fanon warned against is absent here, the signs of privilege and dissonance are strewn across the narrative. The cloying romanticism of most narratives that deal with Kashmir before 90’s is not found here, and so the reader is allowed to proceed without getting inundated in a surfeit of manufactured memories and claims of an artificial Kashmir without any undercurrents of difference. The prelapsarian world is the world where the grandparents are revered academics, summer holidays are a means of connecting with heritage – a means to temporarily suspend the duality of based in India and identifying oneself as a Kashmiri. The signs are already there – the study of the history of the evolution of the state as a constituent of Indian republic yields uncomfortable contradictions. While, article 370 stands as a reminder of the special circumstances in which Kashmir was ‘acceded’ to India, and a promise of plebiscite placated the international community, the history on the ground followed a different trajectory. Manipulated elections became the norm, and any attempt to reinforce the autonomous character of Kashmir is met with derision, as Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah learnt to his chagrin in 1952.  The 1990’s arrive with the KP exodus, and so Kashmir disappears off the radar, as the pushes and pulls of a life in US take primacy.

Fast forward to 2003, the comparative subsiding of armed militancy allows the family to shift back to their ancestral home in Srinagar. The essay traces the descent of the pastoral idyll into an anarchic state where unaccountability rules the roost. The hierarchies of power have clearly been established, as the elite have’s zoom past the perplexed commoners in elaborate cavalcades that have the right of way – a lesson that is even forcibly reinforced as a university professor learnt the hard way after being dragged out by hair for failing to give way to an official vehicle. The former infamous torture centers – the twin Papas (Papa 1 and Papa 2 – translated ironically as Father – a way of accepting suzerainty as in the popular slang: Who your father?)  have been transformed into official buildings but they serve as a monument of Kashmiri trauma – the conceived space scarcely having undergone any change to merit any change in the lived space, to borrow Lefebvre’s analogy.

Another, metamorphosis that plays out is the appropriation of KP identity as jingoistic national identity – an aspect that plays out repeatedly on social networking sites. All the KP sites have been militarized with large hoardings erected by armed forces appear en route shrines like Amarnath welcoming the pilgrims, thereby indicating the exclusion of the Kashmiri Muslim from the networks of empathy. Identity has been irretrievably tied with religion and religion is synonymous with nationality. All identity markers: accent, dress and appearance are measured on these axes and determine whether the subject will be the recipient of an angry bullet or a friendly smile. So, it comes as no surprise when the author’s mother who wears a sari, is on familiar talking terms with the soldiers, allowed to walk about when the same privilege would be denied to an ordinary Kashmiri Muslim. The narrative is secessionist Kashmiri Muslim fit to be crushed and disenfranchised versus Indian Hindu nation. This binary was never more apparent during the recent floods, when the common perception was that the ‘Hindu’ non-local labour force was the only beneficiary of the official rescue efforts, along with the elite of the land. The diaries of 2010 catalogue the travails of both sides of the conflict – the hapless angry victimized Kashmiri pitted against an underpaid, overworked and sometimes underfed force, and the ensuing result is tragic.

This premise is explored further in the second essay “My heaven is Burnin’…” that delves into the origins of the Kashmir conflict. The essay traces the emergence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir set against a general shift in the world towards a post-colonial global order as the sun faded on the imperial regimes of yore after the world wars. The essay makes a compelling argument about the substitution of post-colonial utopias by neo-colonial dystopias which replicate the modus operandi of their colonial masters.  The imperialist intervention, the essay points out, forged a loose alliance of disparate communities yoked together by the agency of and consequently opposed to the imperial force, in this particular case – the British, to fight for nationhood based upon the premise that local aspirations would receive more recognition in new post colonial structures of governance as compared to the colonial centripetal systems.  In the case of Kashmir, a vassal state, the anti-colonial movement rose against the Dogra regime, who obtained the absolute power over Kashmir, as a British vassal, through the infamous Treaty of Amritsar. The “historically abysmal levels of formal learning among Muslims” thwarted their emancipation. The Kashmiri Pandits, however, prioritized literacy and acquired an advanced level of literacy such that they were impossible to ignore in the administrative setup – being adequately literate and possessing local knowledge. The Hindu connection and literacy didn’t catapult them to higher levels of administration, though as the Dogras were determined to preserve their exclusive Rajput-Hindu identity as their claim to superiority. Discrimination against the local populace was existent at both covert and overt level, covert in case of Pandits and overt in case of Muslims who were additionally subject to an aggressive system of taxation and forced labour (beggar). The Muslim majority state thus suffered the double ignominy of being ruled by a regime, intent of preserving and promoting its Hindu credentials in scant regard of majority, and being further isolated from its ‘empowered’ Hindu minority who comprised no more than 5% of the population. The anti-colonial movement, the essay argues was therefore a confluence of several shifting strands – a demand for Muslim empowerment, class empowerment (the local peasant and artisan being the most impoverished and affected populace) and an identification with the larger anti-British struggle enacted outside the state by the Indian National congress.

The essay traces the various political and ideological contours that evolved in Kashmir after its interaction with the catastrophic accident of partition. The unusual events and startling claims of the treaty of accession, startling in the sense that they would drive hyper-nationalists to severe hysterics today, like a refusal to be assent to any future constitution of India, are sufficient to suspect any claim of willful integration of the state with the Indian republic.  Over the next three decades, “politics in Kashmir continued to be a powder keg of repression”, which finally culminated in the explosive 90’s. By this time, the political issues had been simply relegated to a law and order issue and thus could be conveniently brushed aside by mobilizing a vast array of armed forces backed by the discourse of aggressive nationalism. The shift is painstakingly covered with a rich texture of detail and lucid language that leaves the reader with a profound sense of unceasing regret and loss signified best by the dotted line – a marker of continuity that completes the title.

The third essay “the Witness of Poetry” seeks to examine Kashmiri poetry as a chronicle of grief, decline and pain that serves to mould the discourses of future to some degree by serving as a means to transform consciousness – a refusal to write back into hegemonic discourses of guardianship, mentoring or regency that have variously been used as pretexts by neo-imperial regimes of Post-Colonial India. Taking its cue from the contemporary trauma theory, the essay seeks to examine what political positions can be mapped from the Kashmiri poetry, written as a response to 90’s. Elsewhere, I have pointed out that “traumatic memories are interpretative accounts and so liable to endless interpretation – “trauma is a crux, speaking to the undecidability of representation and the limits of knowledge” (Lockhrust, 2006). The narratives that emerge either in prose or poetry are therefore a belated response – an attempt to make sense out of the omissions and representations of a particular historical narrative; the disparities in the narratives only highlight the desire for creating a suitable defense mechanism that is in consonance with the prevailing socio-political mores. The literature of the 90’s reflects a sense to give form to orature – the narrative that precedes the written form, and so clear the ground for a new world order that assimilates the past[1].”

The essay then seeks to examine two poems that cover two narratives – the Kashmiri Muslim voice of trauma due to displacement from an idyllic past, and a Kashmiri Pandit voice lamenting the exile from homeland. Both voices are united in trying to seek solutions to the jigsaw – “the compendium of the sights and sounds, relationships, and every day practices” that lies shattered in the wake of armed insurgency. The Kashmiri Muslim voice represented by a ghazal by Mohiuddin Masarat is examined as cataloguing the dissonance, the rupture from normatively and hence evolving a “poetics of victimage”. The argument is scholarly and indeed well thought out except for a small issue that clouds the whole argument. The word ‘mot’ is translated as the lunatic (seer) in the ghazal, and the argument revolves a juxtaposition of the poet-lunatic in evolving a poetics of resistance. The term is often used in Kashmiri poetry as a reference to a beloved, a vernacular substitution. Will the argument of juxtaposition still hold if the meaning of mot is altered?

The argument will suffer to a minor degree, but the larger premise of a narrator engaged in ‘solipsistic disavowal’ will still hold. The Kashmiri-Pandit voice represented by a ghazal by Brij Nath Betaab is typical of Diaspora discourse, and the approach adopted by it can be traced to the famous poem by Akhter Shirani – O des say aanay walay bata (O traveler from my land, speak). The poem presents a series of images that constituted the idyllic pre-exile past, each stanza interspersed with the realization of the impossibility of fulfilling the erasure enacted by exile – does the practice still continue in the present. For the Diaspora, the homeland frozen in time and space, the incongruity of the alien Indian culture repeatedly evokes a memory to lacerate the wound of impossible history as it unfolds.The fourth essay “Indian Empire (and the case of Kashmir” completes the remarkable quartet of essays.  It makes a well wrought answer to the question that every inhabitant from Kashmir faces in a lifetime: Why have progressive Indian intellectuals and politicians found the Kashmir problem puzzling? An analysis of the practices of Post-Colonial nations especially India reveals that the colonial imprint is too indelible to have allowed a complete break from colonial pasts as independence is imagined to have enacted. In the case of India, and other Post Colonial nations it has only served to induce a nationalist amnesia that refutes any interrogation of practices that allow suspension of fundamental principles of democratic functioning. The aggressive nationalism left as a residue of the post colonial mobilization has only served to negate any compromise on the definition of the external boundaries of the state as outlined by the departing British. This paradox of legitimizing the writ of the colonial master deemed illegitimate otherwise for administering the state informs the practice of converting the state into a massive security apparatus to contain the restive populations that refuse to abide by these boundaries. The negation of the aspirations of the local populace, a key characteristic of the transition from colonial to post-colonial highlights the absurdity of imagining a break from past – only a transfer of power took place, in reality.

UntitledThe Indian state is placed in the context of global politics, to assess the conditions that negate any adaption of the post colonial ethos. The essay sets its argument upon a scathing analysis of a comment by C Raja Mohan – an eminent strategic affairs editor of Indian Express and a former holder of Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International relations at the John W Kluge Center, Library of Congress.  C Mohan argues for the evolution of an India center to facilitate the return of a Raj, enlisting the colonial period as a catalyst of bringing stability and peace to the warring and chaotic 19th and 20th centuries, overlooking conveniently the wrenching of the social fabric it caused apart from all hues of exploitation. Espousing an alliance with the primary global superpower –United States, he imagines India acting as a vassal in establishing an India center in the subcontinent giving India unparalleled access to the resources and routes of the subcontinent. India, therefore, is only following the global lead where the state is expected to modulate its policies to facilitate corporate trading and promote industrial interest. Rather than enacting transfer of democratic functions to the local constituents, the modern state acts only to extend capitalist principles set up by colonial trans-national companies like East India Company. The state’s capacity for violence directly determines its ability to exploit its resources both local and abroad to the hilt and any resistance, e.g. by Maoists only serves to invite state retribution. The political imagination is restricted to only two options: either accept economic development, surrender any attempt to wrest autonomy, or face military action.

The essay makes an extremely valid argument, about Kashmir, by placing it as a site of challenge to the Indian state’s “twinned powers of the state and multinational capital.”  An analysis of the electoral trends shows the degree to which the Indian state imitates its colonial master to protect the interests of its mainland that include access to cheap hydropower, water and potential mining reserves. In a direct replication of the colonial strategy to maintain a vice like grip on its colonies, the Indian state has not permitted the state of Jammu and Kashmir to build or operate dams like Kishenganga and Baghlihar- both are built and operated by NHPC – an unit administered by the center, which charges the state for its operations, besides transferring the major chunk of power generated to mainland India. Another important and valid reason, pointed out by the essay is the mapping of Kashmir as symbolic of India’s purported secular syncretism that occupies a cherished place in the national imagination – tampering with the state’s current combination of Muslim (Kashmir) – Hindu (Jammu) and Buddhist (Ladakh) populace is irreconcilable with the nationalist-ideological imagination, and so begets no solution in the near future.

A word on the translations – though my Kashmiri especially perception of Kashmiri poetry is limited, yet I couldn’t help feeling that many translations appear to be poor cousins of the originals. There appear to be some glaring omissions and mistranslations. In Bashir Dada’s famous ghazal Bless him now, matio is translated as lost one and explained in a footnote as superseding rationality. That the word refers to beloved e.g. in matio dil ne rozan danjay (Beloved, the heart is all aflutter), as I explained earlier, has simply escaped his attention. The lost one last line in Ghulam Hassan Taskeen’s nazm: chon akh akh  tsuih tse kiut bari giraan: is translated as Each one of your young, is for you, a great burden. Tsuih translates literally into breath or moment of lived existence, and so the line ought to read as as Each one of your young, is for you, a great burden. Zahirialmasa (zeher-e-almas) is inexplicably translated as Poison of diamond. Zahir-e-almas is a commonly used trope in Kashmiri poetry literally translatable into caustic poison whose effects are unbearable and painful to extreme. Some lines like so greedy I am for money I have my vision pawned, sound alien to the cadences of English poetry, to my ears. However, it is a subjective judgment and the readers will judge for themselves whether or not the translations appeal to them. Credit must be given where due, and that lies in anthologizing the works of Kashmiri poets for a larger readership. Though the selection is by no means exhaustive, as the preface confesses, yet it is a laudable attempt at examining the evolution of Kashmiri Resistance Poetry. The omission of Rehman Rahi and Naseem Shifai is certainly intriguing. Both are recognized widely as powerful voices engaged in recovering the voice of censored Kashmir. The omission of Naseem Shifai is even more surprising since her poetry is heavily influenced by feminist concerns and seeks to dramatize the severe trauma of the double subaltern – the woman, one of the worst off sections of the conflict ridden state. The book would have been the better for their inclusion. A final word on the powerful photographs of Javed Dar: they complement the narrative well, the black and white texture suits the narrative even better as the absence of color blends well with a lack of detail and life in Kashmir – a monotonous tale of death and destruction unfolds here on day to day basis, and the photographs present just that.

Overall, the book is a compelling but extremely painful read; it snuffs out any hope that we, the subjects of the beleaguered land hold that things might soon turn for the better. It appears that Marquez’s might have the final laugh: Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. I fear the book validates this view point, and not entirely without justification. The book is a refreshing change from the myopic narratives of Kashmir, which one comes across at every juncture. Scholarly, balanced and extremely readable, the book is a welcome addition to the corpus of reading on Kashmir that includes Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects by Mridu Rai and Langauges of Belonging by Chitralekha Zutchi. Kashmiri scholarship is in safe hands, one wishes the same could be said about the administration.

___________________________________________________________

Lockhrust, Roger. “Mixing Memory and desire: Psychonalysis, psychology and Trauma theory.” Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Patricia Waugh. Oxford University Press, 2006. 501.

Huzaifa Pandit is a research scholar working on resistance poetry at University of Kashmir. His poems and essays have been published in various national and international journals like Indian Literature and Papercuts.

Advertisements

Circuits by Jennifer K Dick- A Review

386204_143866762391482_1126872668_n
Click on the image to buy a copy of the book

Jennifer K. Dick, American poet who currently teaches American Literature, Creative Writing and Civilisation at the Université de Haute Alscace, France, unleashes a surreal, tantalising look into the poetics of psychology. Her current academic research focus is the merging of the field of poetry and of visual poetics. She has written three books and four chapbooks to date. Circuits, her most recent publication, was published in 2013 by corruptpress.

Circuits is a poetry collection based on George Johnson’s 1992 book on the science of memory, In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build the Worlds Inside Our Head. Throughout, Circuits echoes the scientific side of this work, sometimes falling short when translating it into poetry. Poems within Circuits are rarely less than one A4 side in length with few line breaks and thus, it is definitively a challenge even to the sophisticated reader of both poetry and psychology.

Despite this, when the technical language and concepts begin to strengthen in the brain as the collection goes on, what the reader is left with is a difficult, confusing, at times frustrating and other times, liberating exploration into the poetics of psychological memory. This exploration is best narrated through this segment of Dick’s work,

“the idea that memory is a bright light in the brain, one neural network responds to its intense competing hypothesis – different features for what is already open to scepticism. It was much of what Anderson was leading to: Certain brains pick the horizon as just another star, but deep inside are the various ways to guess it is Venus.” (‘Resonance and Reality, p.8). Enigmatic and esoteric, Dick has created a poetry collection unlike any other I have encountered.

Circuits is a poetic exploration of psychology and neuroscience and it is not a collection catered for the layman. Prior knowledge of these scientific fields are almost essential, unless the reader wishes to spend dedicated time looking up words such as ‘erythrocytes,’ ‘dendrites,’ ‘calmodulin’ and ‘neurotransmitter’. For the unprepared reader, this could be an enduring process. However, in spite of this, many of the poems come together by the end, as after reading them, revelations about memory, human behaviour, love, lust and confusion is bound in a purgatorial state between science and the arts. Dick’s poetic ability is not really in question, with stunning visuals such as, “She woke, tongue of her tulips, Marlboro or Lucky – the packet shaved. Cool tile in the blue-eyed auburn night crossing the doublings.” (A Hostile Reception, p.22) and “It was possible you were building an architecture we could be models for, human skulls stacked book-like on the shelves peering over your shoulder.” (Intuition & Ambiguity, p.30) Nevertheless, these pieces are rare gems to be plucked out from larger poems, leaving stanzas more exciting and together than the whole, due to the intellectual nature of the work.

Circuits captures in poetic sentiment the inescapable reality of a materialist’s focus: that we are merely our brains – soulless and without a mind – running on sophisticated algorithms (or Circuits, as the title aptly articulates). On the other hand, Dick’s has finesse within her writing that fleets about topics like a dragonfly’s non-linear movement over a lake. She exposes memories and emotional states at their most dreamlike in a precarious state of collective uncertainty, for example, “He was quick as the sound of room. Dirt. I mean space. I mean I need some.” (An Exotic Phenomenon, p.35). These shorter passages are what separate this book from being a condensed academic summation and into the realms of poetry where the imagery is vivid and interesting, tossing the reader between the taxing natures of mysterious wordplay and academic psychology.

There are moments when society is beautifully reflected in Dick’s poems, for quote, “try soup with multivitamins under surveillance” (The Porcupine Effect, p.4) crosses the barrier between lab experiments and modern life, a concoction of consumerism, prescription drugs and surveillance. One of the tasks of poetry is to make the work relevant to the day, as poems become as much of a historical artifact as they do a cultural magnifying glass on contemporary society. There are abundant times where Dick achieves this fundamental aspect of poetry.

The standout poem from Circuits, personally, was ‘Celestial Navigation,’ which evoked a poetic, psychological perspective between science, belief and faith as it merged the various topics seamlessly together. The human instinct to rely on their memories as a playback machine rather than a fragmented recollection, merging memory and imagination as highlighted, “Memories. Even in truth,” you began, / “is rooted on gut in faith.” (Celestial Navigation, p.47)

Overall, Circuits is a collection for anyone who is intrigued by science and art formulated together into poetry. Dick’s intellectual platform is fascinating and her work echoes human behaviour dressed up in metaphors using neurons, thought patterns and lab experiments. It is a collection which demands attention and reading around the subject area, but if the reader is dedicated to accessing an enigmatic collection of work and puts in the right amount of focus, not only is there solid writing laced with more than just a twist of psychology, there is a lot to be learnt from Dick’s poetic interpretation of science. It is not the sort of collection you are likely to curl up with on your sofa and read in one sitting but the power of this work exists through the readers’ willingness to learn.

Circuits is an interesting collection which captures intrigue, contemplation and inspiration, but that – occasionally – falls short of its potential due to its ambitious and demanding nature.

_

Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Bullets & Orchids by Rewa Zeinati

bullets and orchids
bullets and orchids

(click on the image to check out the book)

 Bullets & Orchids is a cryptic, yet highly relevant collection of contemporary poetry written by Rewa Zeinati, a Lebanese-American poet currently based in Dubai. It was published by corrupt press in 2013.

At first glance, Bullets & Orchids presents itself in a manner which is as surreal as it is intriguing, evident by Zeinati’s skilful manipulation of juxtaposing imagery in the title. This sets the tone for each of the 58 poems within, all titled with merely a number and rarely following a numerical chronology. Even this represents something stranger, something more hypnotic. Zeinati manages to create successfully a unique, gloomy atmosphere, piecing together fragments of glistening imagery from the depths of empathy and her own experience. Bullets & Orchids deploys themes which illuminate the darker perplexities of our times – prevalent themes such as war, famine, love, loss, corruption, greed, religion, death and trauma – are weaved from dissonance into an elegant poetic tapestry, alive with an essence of uncertainty.

Zeinati is not afraid to pull you into her psyche from the beginning, the collection jumping at and around the reader like a restless dream; an incessant thought which can neither be pinpointed nor grasped:

“She travels,
her body still//

Upon the bed…

Sometimes it hurts.”

Disparity is echoed throughout the work and as the pages are turned, Zeinati puts a spotlight on the perils of sleepless nights:

“The ceiling: so tired of leadership. It must come down in the morning.

No one to look down upon until dusk.”

Though many of the poetic ruminations in Bullets & Orchids show a level of philosophical pragmatism, Zeinati is not concerned with making her work palatable; defying the casual reader an easy route to the heart of what the collection is ultimately about:  the Self and its relation to the human condition. Bullets & Orchids is filled with imagery sure to resonate in the psyche of the attentive reader, with segments likely to grip, such as, “And if memory fails / Then memory, / wins.”, “Nothing left but the glint of steel and bloodstained sand”, and, “Like weeds pulled from the earth. That’s how you get rid of the past”. However, there are times when this type of enigmatic writing becomes almost nonsensical, with parts of the poem becoming more memorable than the whole. Meaning is lost sometimes in the stuttering nature of the work, which can lose the message the poem seeks to convey.

Throughout Bullets & Orchids, repetitions and references to poems in various parts of the collection are found. This ties together the different themes. For example, one poem ends in, “I saw bullets though. Many were shaped like tongues”, and later on in the collection, the words, “did you ask me? The artery asked the bullet”, jumps out at the reader with an emotional realism, unique to Zeinati’s poetic voice.

Every now and then, complete poems (or, perhaps more aptly, fragments), come in the form of a single word, seeking relevance from the poems around it. This may come across as contrived, as the words; “nothing” and “today” form whole pieces, which can be frustrating. The disjointed nature of the shape of some poems disrupt the flow, distracting the reader from the full enjoyment of the work, as incomplete sentences read more like hiccups than a flowing voice.

Bullets & Orchids illuminates the absurdity of the world we live in, highlighted by the bluntness of the poem referencing the death of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, “A 42 year dictatorship ends. Another one continues,” (42.) and this is the clearest indication of Zeinati’s frustrations with the world; that one regime terminating does not solve the complex, political and historical problem of oppression.

Bullets & Orchids presents itself as a collection for the enquiring mind, for it takes significant thought and effort to find roots of meaning within the poetry. This should not put off the avid reader, for one of the challenges of poetry is to break from tradition, regardless of whether or not it reads easily.

My favourite poem from the collection; the one which bore the most resonance with me, welds parts of Zeinati’s poetic expression to my own consciousness:

“London burns and Libya burns and Egypt is thrown behind bars. And the same old man wakes up in the morning like nothing ever happens and wears a suit and tie. The same suit and tie. The same morning. His beaten wife asleep in the next room.

Mistake?” (52.)

_

Review by Nathan Hassall

Nathan Hassall was born in the United Kingdom to an American mother and a half-English, half-Greek father. He received a BA Hons in History at the University of Kent, with a Year Abroad studying at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of three self-published poetry collections, Nascent Illusion (2009), A Conscious Void (2011), and Of Gods and Gallows (2015) and endeavors to study an MA in English and Creative Writing at a British University in 2016.

Previous Vertigos-Nina Karacosta

pv_0

(Click on the Image to check out the book)

Previous Vertigos | Nina Karacosta
  A review by Aditya Menon

There are three types of vertigo: objective (your environment seems to move), subjective (you sense yourself moving) and pseudo (something seems to be turning in your head).  Or so Wikipedia tells me.  Does this classification carry over into poetics? You could say that some poems foreground the linguistic object, others the lyric subject, and still others create their own little worlds of expression. But wait, Wikipedia on vertigo takes a skeptical turn: “While this classification appears in textbooks, it has little to do with the pathophysiology or treatment of vertigo.”

So the three vertigos turn out to be “previous”, no longer relevant to medical practice. Still, this very irrelevance makes the vertigos particularly relevant to contemporary poetics. [Pardon the belabored analogy; I do not mean to trivialize the real experience of vertigo. ] A rhetoric of opposition—speaking vs. writing, subject vs. object, conservative quietism vs. avant-garde experimentation—makes for good categories. The “confessional school”, it would seem, asserts the transparency of a message. The “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school”, by contrast, asserts the opacity of the medium. That said, the classification of poetry into antagonistic schools has recently been an object of critique in its own right. Such critique might play with avant-garde polemic; take Keston Sutherland’s Theses on Antisubjectivist Dogma. Or it might shift the focus of the debate. In Lyric Shame: The “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry, Gillian White suggests that a “lyric I” is an object of “shame”.  Thus it has an uneasy pervasiveness, with “opponents” sometimes perpetuating and “defenders” complicating it. This “lyric I” is not a well-defined object, but a way of reading.

How does “Suds”, the second-last poem in Previous Vertigos, and the only one that does not mention a physical object, ask to be read?

 

The experiment is

not

in

the

experimental

it is in

the experience

the exposure

the expression of unsatisfaction

the expulsion.

Are you extending?

No,

you are

a

follower

of the

experimental

standing in

the

middle

of

your

crowd-

for you there is no extreme, no extravagant

no ecstatic.

The poem strikes me as a reflexive piece, engaging the “lyric shame” that White identifies. Is it an ars poetica in defense of the lyric subject? In a context that fetishizes “the experimental”, the speaker turns the tables on those who would shame her. First, a statement : experiment is not in the experimental. Then, a question, which dramatizes the exchange: “Are you extending?” sounds like an “Are you listening?” as much as an “Are you experimenting?” Finally, a condemnation. The speaker shames the addressee.

But what are the “suds”? Expelled, ecstatic results of the experiment? [The Wikipedia disambiguation page informs me that SUDS is an acronym for “subjective units of distress scale”, but this would be a stretch.] And who is the you? An absent interlocutor, the poet herself (a possibility that Afric McGlinchey’s review raises), or a hypocrite reader? If this is a manifesto, it is a reticent one, in spite of its auditory insistence. After all, the repeated sound “ex” is a prefix that can signify the previous, the passé. Not that we should take this sense uncritically; the repetition is so emphatic that makes a close reading feel absurd. The constraint of the “ex” words draws the poem beyond whatever statement Karacosta initially intended, if any.

Previous Vertigos appeared in 2011, before Sutherland’s manifesto or White’s book. Still, I think it bears reading in light of these critical trends. This is not to reduce it to a symptom or magnify it into an intervention. It is one among many possible configurations of the elusive lyric “I”, and happens to be one that I like.

At first glance, the collection seems firmly on the side of the confessional lyric subject, whose existence we just problematized. Skimming the book, you encounter a figure worn down by drugs and war and consumerism even as it is expanded by global travel and cross-cultural exposure, and yet alert to the body it inhabits, the landscapes through which it moves. The persona that moves through Karacosta’s pages does not coalesce into such a caricature, but it does gesture to all these possibilities. Some of the landscapes are explicitly marked: Greek coast, English countryside, New Mexico desert. Relationships, whether with people or substances, feel plausible and even “compelling”. An abundance of multisensory imagery, framed in verbally exuberant phrases, brings various pasts to life in visceral, often vertiginous form. The word “I” appears over sixty times.

For all this, the chapbook is not the diary of Nina Karacosta, Greek-American poet and actor, regurgitated for your vicarious consumption.  More often than not, the people, things and places appear in a disorienting space or time—in the immaterial past of memory, the insistently material present of text, the conditional of genre. Here and there, you find imperatives. One poem, “War Games”, consists entirely of such imperatives. It ends with these: “Count your bones. / Breathe air.” Both injunctions involve bodily awareness; one seems oriented toward death, the other toward life.  The emphasis on bare life makes the poem feel “universal” even as it evokes an individual body.  The chapbook doesn’t give a  gloss here, but an online version presents it as a “response to events in Gaza in 2009, meant to highlight the absurdity of war”. The phrase “highlight absurdity” can hardly exhaust the poem’s effects. The second-person imperative invites empathy, and the specific imperatives—while they have no immediate effect on the actual victims—offer this second-person subject an ethics and/or aesthetics of bare life.

“Can’t Talk About It” takes place on the page and in the body. Here, the body is that of a first-person speaker. The right-aligned part of the poem describes a surgery. Then comes a left-aligned meta-narration that explains and stops this account: “Doodling at the edge of the white paper / I want to write about burning three fingers / and ending up in the emergency room / but instead keep doodling” . The last few lines, right-aligned again, seem to have moved back from the medium of writing to the spoken message, but the terms have moved from real to surreal.  It ends “I am / a corridor of rain,” (is “rain” a sublimation of “pain”?) without any closing punctuation. In this line, the lack of punctuation places the “I” in suspense, while the words themselves designate an impossible interior.

“Psychotropic Hurrah” is tentative in its ecstasy: “i can maybe write a pow wow poem”. I am drawn to its phrase “attic cylindrical frenzy”, which evokes an impossible interior like “corridor of rain”. Gloss “attic” as adjective, meaning “Greek”, and a different shape emerges.  It recalls, at least for me, the Grecian urn that Keats invoked as “attic shape”.  Whereas he read movement in a static object, Karacosta shapes a stasis out of her disorientations.

Perhaps the lyric subject of Previous Vertigos is new, after all—if only in its precise groundlessness. Consider the last lines of the first poem, “Solitaire”:

I am not

me because if I were I would know what

I’m not. All this adds up to nothing.

To suspend.

Nosratolah Masoudi

Nosratolah Masoudi
If Plato, the transcendentalist philosopher, abandoned poets from his ideal city, he had rightfully predicted the revolutionary power of poet and poetry. If soon later, his disciple, Aristotle protected poets and poetry, he deeply believed in the remedial impression of arts and poetry. In our contemporary world, where, people struggle with numerous predicaments, social moderators like music, poetry and painting may soften, in turn, that very society. 

The main gap between the Iranian Classical poetry and Modern poetry was the constitution period (1906) when Iran breathed and experienced a fresh air in culture, arts and politics.  Among such poets in Iran, though, after a century, arrived Nosratolah Masoudi, a poet, fiction writer, journalist, playwright and actor who received such an inevitable position in Iran and Lorestan in particular, that his amatory poems has spread its scent all over the new generation. 

Aside from his political life and his highly renowned academic career, Masoudi has always pursued his concern for love and his contemporary people. His soft and dedicated words invite people to peace and love.  Love, the dominant theme throughout Masoudi’s poems is never decorated with complicated philosophical expressions or images. The simple but immensely sensitive language is always blended with such sincerity, it is as if the poet is voicing out his own grievances:

One April day

I will grab

Your sweet scent

From a newborn bud.

Masoudi’s beloved could be a real human being or an imaginary creature. For him, it does not matter either sides. What is important is a mental support that one can get from love. Love would be the most protective shelter for human beings in such a cruel century, without which, one may not tolerate life itself:

Blessed is a dog

Compared with

The doggish life I’m leading.

In such a disparate misery

I keep my rambling

By the side of this

Narrow one-way road

Looking for the mercy of a

Brakeless truck.

The simple and daily language, the objective images and the metaphor of a dog resemble the disparate life for the contemporary century. The images of a ‘truck’ or a ‘narrow one-way road’ are our daily tangible observations. What has happened to the twenty and twenty first century man to compare his life with a dog, waiting for a brakeless truck on a narrow one-way road is Masoudi’s main concern. Such objective and dark images walk neck to neck with T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste land’. If Eliot’s solution for his corrupted contemporary society is religion and morality, Masoudi’s solution is to love and to be loved. For Masoudi, the only excuse is the love itself:

You are the only excuse for

My inhale and exhale.

That’s why I breathe.  

For Masoudi’s lover, committing a sin is a charity; for it will bring about sunlight in the lovers frozen heart:

Let’s commit the sin

And share its charity.

I have been frozen

From this killing

Sunless shadows of loneliness.

Let’s commit it soon.

As a playwright, director and actor, his poetry speaks for itself. The verbal aspect of his poetry gives the credence to his mastery over poetry. We rarely face overstatement in his simple but profound poetry:

Such courteously

And so kept in sanity

Devoted to you,

So much so that

I can’t love you

Without your consent.

But,

Now that you are

Too lost in distances

To beg your permission,

How can I take your mercy

For the moment

To cry my heart out?

Masoudi’s imaginary beloved ‘Parmida’ is a combination of all ideal females around the world. He himself confesses that “I have created her out of all my ideal females I have ever read about, seen or wished to meet”. He is so devoted to such an illusive beloved that cries out from his heart:

Do not believe

If only for a moment

I have ever loved you,

Except the moments

I have been breathing.

Satire might be one of Masoudi’s weapons in the battle of his society. As a satirist he has received many prizes from different festivals in Iran. He believes that in a society where one cannot express him/herself freely, artists have to use their old tricks; irony and satire. That is why he ingeniously kills two birds with one stone:

How dare I

To pass the security guards

Carrying a bomb

In my heart

And a memory loaded by

Gunpowder of your odor?

Writing eleven books of poetry, two books of play, many short stories, writing for many journals and newspaper for more than three decades, directing and acting in more than thirty plays, he still  pursues his literary career with the same vigor. Some of his poetry has been translated into English, Italy, Arabic, French, Germany and Kurdish.  


Dr. Sasan Bazgir

Picture from http://faramarzsoleimani.blogspot.com/2010/04/aprilmonth-of-poetry_07.html

 

 

‘Parted’ by Justina Semetaite. A Review.

Parted                                 (Click on the image to check out the book)

From making intellectual observations to relaying the most sensitive and cherished emotions and thought, poetry encompasses an innate ability to express and reflect the most intimate of emotions. That inspiration can derive from the most tangible source or simply, a moments’ pensive surrender.

In our first Literary Review, we take a look at the chapbook “Parted” by Justina Semetaite, published by CorruptPress in November, 2011. Justina was born in Lithuania, in 1989 and currently resides in Vilnius. Both the author and the chapbook deal with the subject of parting from the most intimate perspective conceivable. The eight poems displayed in the chapbook are written in a touchingly poignant manner. From reflecting on the separation from a homeland to the departure of a lover, the chapbook covers a wide spectrum of emotions that are profoundly articulated through a gritty and raw arsenal of metaphors.

All the poems are imbued with a deep sense of separation. Each title hinges on this overarching theme, vindicated by the motif within each title with words like “‘goodbyes, postcards”, culminating in the final poem “‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger.’” Every poem in this chapbook resonates with that despair. A sense of longing is brought into the forefront with simple and accessible imagery that refracts the complexities of dealing with the subject of parting in a surrealistic form of poetic catharsis.

The last poem in the chapbook is an exceptional poem that with each line; carries thematic imagery that continues to accumulate (beginning from the first poem) throughout the chapbook. However, this, in no means, detracts from the quality of the other poems. There are great lines sewn into each work, but, as a critic, it would be negligence on my part, not to discuss this
concluding poem in further details.

‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger’ is a poem that reflects on a failed love. It follows the narrative exposition of a memoir, with the stylistic freedom of a post-modern piece. The poet expresses her anguish and raw emotions through using intricate, classical allusions, as well as creating an entirely new set to draw from in future works.

The poem is told as a memoir of golden days laced in an undercurrent of bitter foreshadowing. It is perhaps enduring because of its juxtaposition between a hopeful beginning on the surface and the carefully construed cynicism lying underneath (that proves justified as the failure of the love prevails).

“I will ask you to bury me in the basement of your laughter and I will promise to be a shy flower, translating itself into dust “(lines 55-57). The constant recurrence of the motifs in the poem are embedded systematically throughout, The words and phrases are repeated constantly to reinforce the readers with a sense of impending, provocative empathy (not sympathy however) for the narrator of this poem.

‘Dying, Remember, Forgotten’ repeatedly used, reinforces the thematic overture of ‘Parted’. It completes the chapbook in terms of definition and resolution, attributing the sentiment of ‘Parting’ to deep rooted separation beginning from the opening lines of the first poem “The jelly shadows of the birds, sitting on the fence, teach me to fly with my eye” (Lines 1-3, I’m talking to myself about the good-byes’).

The line ‘The streetlights are of no use at all’(lines 131-132)  mimics the candor of W.H Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ to further illustrate the dramatic extent of that void of separation in all forms..

All eight of the poems in the chapbook share with us, a little part of the poet’s soul. An attribute any poetry enthusiast can perhaps, connect with.

I would recommend this chapbook to buy and read.(The link to purchase the book is placed on the cover)

In conclusion, I will perhaps ‘remember the dying things’ as was pointed out and use both the poet and chapbook to vindicate and highlight the search of young poetic talents like Justina Semetaite for ‘The Luxembourg Review’.

 Syed Shehzar Mukkarrim Doja

Founder and Editor-in-Chief
The Luxembourg Review

____________________________________________________________________________
*Next week we will continue our review with an exclusive interview with the poet*

*If you have any questions for the poet, please leave it on the comment section, we will do our best to include some of them in the interview*

THE FIRST POST

Welcome to the first post of this humble blog.

It is never easy to express or understand just how or where a journey truly begins. Is it when the first actual steps are conceived in the resounding vibration of an epiphany or when the first steps towards the distance are declared in the manifestation of the physical steps that follow through with it? Perhaps it is with the momentum of pushing oneself towards a new horizon? An unprecedented beginning is sometimes too overwhelming and it may stop one from continuing on that very conceivable momentum, unhindered, unprovoked, un-submissive to the fear of regret in its many ingenious disguises.

There are countless quotes, a plethora of clichés and even a canonical pantheon of great poetry and philosophical reflections dating back from antiquity to five seconds ago floating somewhere amidst the flickering mind of a seven or so billion populace out there,  that deal  with this very innate search.

Yet, it is all there for the simple, perhaps inarticulate, but often times misunderstood reasoning that mankind has developed symbolic tools of expressions solely to understand the world around them.  It is to better understand the conflicted nature of mans’ primordial self versus the potential ambiguities of higher stations of consciousness.

Language, Art, Music and even the more modern day ability to capture a single expression of time within itself is akin to the fabled Arthurian or Valmikian quests of yore; to seek beyond the complexities of a black or white picturesque paradigm story arch, consistently deducing, inferring a world that strives in the quests to be submerged somehow in the very nature that exudes our ability to comprehend and reflect on an individual basis.

It is in that perhaps naive, misconstrued or romantic quest for the preservation of that birth right that I wish to start the journey towards forming THE LUXEMBOURG REVIEW. It will be a ‘tavern’ for the restless searching individuals in lure of whatever realization they wish to seek and in whatever gift they wish to recite their narrative.

Platforms that may have seemed inconceivable at the time I was born have managed to indulge me now in some residue of renewed hope and newly found perspective and resolve towards creating a global platform for and with people who share similar inclinations and unfettered hope.

As the infamous William Blake quote goes, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is – infinite.” This embodies the often-times repressed drive for change that people unwillingly and unknowingly submit to.

Oh, to break that paradigm and recreate, or attempt to, in the image of visionaries, artists, writers, and thinkers who propel themselves forward with the intent to address any innate subjugation.

We shall see..

(not good enough)

therefore,

We shall create.

Syed Shehzar Mukkarrim Doja
Founder of The Luxembourg Review.

A Literary Review

%d bloggers like this: