“Write what you know” I heard it said before. Hmmmm! …… I disagree. At age 19, I immigrated from the middle-east and found myself in an in-between state. Wet from the all immersive experience of being deeply embedded in a culture; dry as a cracker observing new set of social norms. The isolation had a bite. Yet it forced me to forge a personality that is neither of the poetic east nor of the seductive west. In my geometry I imagined a shape that was neither circular nor sharp. I neither complied nor felt compelled to defy conventions. The Quran instructs us to say: “O God, increase me in knowledge.” I repeated the verse as I descended the spiraling stairwell of Sedgewick Library at UBC. My computer science projects bored me. Hours were spend, instead, in the underground library that had two mirrored skylights that brought natural light to the bottom floor. In one frenzied reading session, I discovered that my country of origin, based on Amnesty International rating, had the second worse human rights record in the whole entire world for that particular year. Reading the history of my own, mysterious occurrences suddenly clicked. There are forms of knowledge that cut like barb wire. I understood what I didn`t want to understand. “O God, everything I know is wrong.” I left dreamy university days for a lucrative professional rhythm. My wounds neither healing nor halting me from pursuing the original directive. Consuming with ferocity dusty sources: “I will not be hoodwinked again”. A carefully considered perspective considers all points of view. This process is exhaustive but worth every page turn. There are levels of knowledge and then there are levels of knowledge. An energetic dancer can waltz through this maze. I am a sluggish nerd, prone to contemplating dead ends. “O God, increase me in knowledge” what a heavy burden? Writing stories for computers is easy. Things are logical and supreme laws apply. One day I sat down to write code. A tingling sensation in my fingertips produced typing. The resulting words were not understandable by any machine. Only humans could decipher what I produced. What a shame? I was such a talent. In the kingdom of rational thinking, a poet is a fool. Why can’t inspiration strike to my measure? “What I do know, I don’t know. What I don’t know, at least I know for certain that I don’t know. Provides for a healthier start.” Don’t you agree? I invented a place with its mythical history. Nobody can accuse me that my knowledge of its geography has a hole. In the recesses of my fantasy there is a lone expert. What I don’t know I make up. It is the only antiquity where I know for certain: Who said what to whom? What happens next? And that nagging why? I have all the answers. At least for now. In that country I placed two rivers that run in parallel. One trickles apprehensively with all emotional restrain endured by men. The second flows abundantly with the sexual repression suffered upon women. In between the two, I shall let the battle of the sexes run for eternity. I say: “O God, increase me in knowledge” less frequently, more gingerly. Today Sedgewick library is gone. The skylight that piped natural light into my isolation chamber is a slab of concrete. “God is great.” I heard it said. I am beginning to see.
On the bus home there was a girl wearing a beautiful mustard yellow coat. Four seams ran in parallel from the front of the coat over her shoulders
and traced the waves of her scapulae down the back. The collar was small and modest, the buttons were covered by cloth of the same mustard yellow,
the construction was of surpassing quality. I lost track of the sentence I was speaking when she boarded. She took the empty seat across form me,
and set a leather tote bag in her lap. Above the right side of her lip was a beauty mark. She wore blue wool leggings, dark, heavy green boots,
and a haircut from somewhere in the past that I could not place, a point in time that seemed as specific as it was remote. There was something
inhuman and invincible about her stylishness, as if the artistic choices she made in her wardrobe that day overshadowed all else; for the four
minutes on the bus she seemed the exact result of her will, as we never are in life.
I wonder how many memories I have that begin with, "On the bus home today..." There must surely be hundreds, thousands, outnumbered only by those others memories that go, "On the train to _______ today..." It often seems that a single memory is the only vestige of an entire day's worth of experiences. Sometimes it is an inconsequential memory, like the day I was driving along state highway 9 when a robin standing on a traffic island caught my eye. Time slowed, and the roar of the asphalt fell away into a soft breathing. I turned my head as I went past, and watched the robin recede from view. That is all I have from that day. And so I am given to believe that what remains of today will be the image of that striking girl in the yellow coat, an occurrence at once beautiful and without deeper meaning, like slabs of sunlight after a rain.
This is Mahasty Eslahy’s first published book of poetry, she is a scholar with
an MA in Theatre and Dramatic Literature from Iran and an MA in Education from a
university in Ireland. Poet Eslahy is from Iran and was not able have her first
book of poetry published (although two of her plays were performed in college),
amongst issues of personal freedom she immigrated to Ireland. This book of
poetry is the story of an Iranian woman in Ireland, the struggle to learn the
language, the struggle for freedom and to practice her calling to be a writer
amongst the new culture and politics.
Through Gateways and Wells Refuge and Refugee begins with a narrative poem, “To Be Me, an Immigrant”, the poem begins:
“I am a human, a woman,
who didn’t want to live
in an oppressive landscape.
Hamid, I always heeded your words,
“man agar bar khizam, to agar bar khizi,
hame bar mikhizand”;
“If I stand up, if you stand up,
everyone will stand up”.”
in the powerful immigrants song, freedoms song there is the voice of a woman “a stranger, in a strange land” becoming. Her son is discriminated against,
“He didn’t want to be called “foreigner”,
was blaming me, kept saying to me,
“This is your fault, that’s your fault.”
I tried telling him that it’s a game,
one ‘f’ for fucking and the other ‘f’ for foreigner;
goes to say double ‘f’ which can be said ‘ff’;
it’s a game, it is a game…
“Mom are you crazy?”
And I said “yeah I’m crazy,
because I think there is no such thing as foreigner.
There are only us, there are we’s.
We are all just human beings.”
The poem is the story of frustration with the language, the new ways and discrimination by the local peoples. In the face of change she bravely tells the bare, honest truth, perhaps not always easy and champions understanding, creating dialogue and true democracy. In “Undoing Racism” is the wish to be seen for herself, her qualities, her essence, not someone categorized and classified according to skin colour, wealth or class. “Wishing for the appearance of freedom,/ away from coercion./ Wishing to be a horse/ or a fish, or flower.” In the book of poetry she plays upon the idea of being taken into the arms of her new motherland, Ireland, “From My Soul to My Fingers” –
“To be a citizen
A resident is not a citizen?
An overwhelming feeling of being a stranger here.”
“A white rose is growing there
Looking at the clouds
And clouds are making love
Creating beautiful drizzling rain
The rose is raising its branches
Enlarging and enlarging
Escalating to the sky
Accessing the birds
As they soar
Flying to the utmost
Toasting that essence of freedom
Abide, my soul, abide”
As if even with all the difference, the changes in everyday living, the newness of the green there is intense joy, celebration and even exaltation in hope. Occasionally there is whimsy as in “Azi’s Bubbles”:
“There are bubbles and Azi is tired.
She wants to go to her bed.
She sees bubbles all over the place.
Then, all the bubbles are there,
under her pillow.
They are bursting one by one,
and Azi goes to the bubble’s land,
safely secure inside one of them.”
Throughout the song of poetry is the innate essence of the Poet, a reflection of sun and flowers, a land of magic and pomegranates, reading the poetry is like biting into the large sweet fruit, the light of nectar. In “Senobar” it is as if she is remembering a beautiful spruce tree in her garden in Iran:
“Me and senobar, and Damavand
Will be there forever.
Hearing the songs of the bliss of birds,
Supposing, echoing in Arcadia,
Imagined by a mirror in the promised land.”
In “Is that Loneliness”:
“All the way
The wild roads
and in “Discrimination and a Sense of Human Being”:
“Dramatically a woman appeared,
just at the end of a cheerless story
Still slept and wasn’t sure that
the story was finished or had just started
And like the dolphins that sleep
She too had slept with open eyes.”
The haunting beauty in an exotic place opens itself as if glimpses of wholeness in a New Land, it is a celebration of the feminine essence. In this book of poetry she also writes about her father and love.
The cultural nuances of Poets celebrates peoples of different nationalities, it is a postcard of place and time and I imagine difficult to do in a second language English. However, Poet Eslahy has mastered the language and presented an elegant treatise on love and freedom, her first published book of poetry casts her as an emissary of light from the Middle East and specifically, Iran. This is a strong first work from Ms. Eslahy, Through Gateways and Wells Refuge and Refugee.
Available at Melinda Cochrane International and Amazon.ca.
Gina Nemo, celebrated actress, performer, writer, songwriter, musician,
television producer and director has written Strings, her first book of
poetry. Ms. Nemo has been published in various anthologies and internationally.
In the introduction she writes that the poetry is influenced by a dream and past
and present love affairs.
As if carried on a fairytale wind the work has American Goth and Rap Music influences and seems to harken to another time. The poetry blooms from a musical background and the lyrics play not unlike a George Gershwin (American Jazz Composer) sound sheet from the 1920’s. It is almost as if the poetry demands music. There is an unwritten post-modern poetry style rule, that rhyme schemes should be unnoticed, like the perfect murder (an accident) however, this is not the case with most of this poetry. This Art Nouveau style of poetry emerges from the mists, with a white rap and American Beat Poet influence. The illusory Muse, somewhere in the background, just beyond reach, the Poet writes.
Like witchcraft, poetry rhyming and certain rhyme schemes are used in magic, as if casting a spell, to make love come true. In "Velvet Echoes" – “That voice,/ Your velvet echoes,/ Still ringing in my ear,/ Like an old song./ Here once again,/ Your soul whispers/ From another time,/ When you were mine./ Those velvet echoes,/ From years before/ Where our love began,/ Here again for more,/ Hold on this time,/ Don’t disappear./ I hear your voice,/ I know you’re near.” The steady rhyme and capitalization at the beginning of each line with all i’s dotted and t’s crossed, as if harkening to a more copacetic time when love was real, and Coke was the real thing at the soda counter with ice cream and 2 straws from the same tall glass.
In "No Ordinary Love" - “Hold onto love,/ Don’t taint the dove,/ With the little girl face./No ordinary plan,/ Just you the man,/And your suitcase./ You the man/ And your suitcase.” In "Deep Sleep" - “What were you thinking?/ That day the clouds came,/ sucking up the rain/ then tossing it out again.” As well as love hooks for songs, the poetry could be sweetheart notes you give to your lover, in "If I could reach you" – “If I could reach you/ In every way/ Surround you with love/ Forever and a day “ or in "New Light" – “New light travels fast, /Just like dreams do,/ Full hearts never last,/ Unless they are true."
My favourite poem is:
Of easy times
To some sound
In the distance
In the streets
All in time
In faces you meet
Your world is mine
In the streets
Life is remade
With worn out feet
In the streets."
Being more post-modernist, this Writer adheres to the unwritten not noticed rhyme scheme in poetry rule but this poem is really quite innovative and in a pared in style. You can hear the old beat box in the background, on the city street corner, people gathering in the sunshine to sing and dance.
In the New Age with the advent of the Internet poetry as a medium has exploded into different styles and different formats. Poetry with photos, in music and film, all at the touch of the keyboard, you are the Artist, the Creator, as if the world is morphing, in the great democracy, the Artist is true freedom. Major trends as well as the Post-modernists (the style of Leonard Cohen), there is a trend of poetic prose, as seen in the works presented by Rob McLennan and above/ground Press, narrative poetry, Haiku and Tanka, and Beat/rap tradition pieces all flowing and melding across the written page on the Internet. A truly great poem is so, regardless of style, welcome to the feast of offerings.
Driving down the highway by the ocean you can hear Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singing "An American girl", the American juke box, the song and the melody, dreams in the land of love, Strings, a promising first book of poetry from Gina Nemo. Available @ Melinda Cochrane International and Amazon.ca.
This book of poems is the first book of poetry by Bruce Kauffman, a Poet active
in the arts community in Kingston, Canada. He chairs poetry readings at the
Artel in Kingston and presents the poetry readings on a radio show at CFRC on
Friday afternoons, as well as editing and writing poetry.
The dedication at the beginning of the book is a quote from M.S. Merwin, “Witness” from “The Rain in the Trees” – “I want to tell what the forests/were like/I will have to speak/in a forgotten language”. A good beginning point from which his poetry rich in enigma and sorrow spins. This poetry is an incantation of the modernist work of ee cummings, there is no capitalization, very little punctuation and the words are laid over the page as if truncated, disjointed windings that have an innate rhythm. As the words dance across the page away from the hard carriage edge, it is as if the rhythm of the piece is shaken, as if the Poet Kauffman is asking us to take a breath and truly feel what is being written. “ i reach for its touch its ink my morphine its mistress my life " – from 5am, in mourning. However, Poet Kauffman’s themes are darker with greater swathes of mystery.
The Poet writes about his father’s death and funeral and about children in sight, “through shades/of ethiopia/through the haze/of Bangledesh/the children are dying”. Bleak urban images are punctuated by images from before the birth of time and influences of the natural world and the Indigenous Community. From light, eulogy “and these hearts/now in the tongue/of tomorrow’s light/and forever/whispering/to the sun”. The poetry exists within a certain romanticism and the dark edge of existentialism at daybreak. A hidden violence and the theme of sorrow in love, the poetry explores a dark mythos struggling from nothingness into the light.
"i touched the walls
of the parthenon
when i was a child
and it was new
i measured the weight
of the blocks of stone
as we built the third pyramid
until the transports came
and i counted
i sat on one end
of the great wall
and watched it slither
and wind motionless
as the other end
was tied with
a string to the moon
and i was the eye
of a bird as i looked down
on a desert floor
and caught an image of the sun
in an empty mirage
until it became the edge
of darkness stealing my own
shadow turned into night
and in different flesh
these bones have skated
on all the glass
even before the canyons
and ravines defined themselves
and became but pathway to the
onslaught of heat and ice
before there was
how little i'd seen
how helpless i was
with my thumb
to wipe a tear
from your eye"
The work is enigmatic, often dark dealing with issues of death and rebirth, spinning lyricism as if breath blowing into the universe receiving answers. Often when reading the works of other Poets I want to change the last lines, they don’t ring properly but not with Poet Kauffman, spellbinding. Truly a great read in contemporary literature, poetry to curl up with on a winter evening. Available on Amazon.ca.