Review: Doyali Farah Islam’s YŪSUF and the LOTUS FLOWER

“The scale and precision of imagery and rhetoric are very real. Doyali grapples with multitude of positions and scenarios but the sense of pacing is unique. Readers will not miss a feeling that poems, written in compressed manner, bleed with mystic love for Sufism and highlight the fundamental unity of all religions,” says poet K. K. Srivastava  in his review of Doyali Farah Islam’s YŪSUF and the LOTUS FLOWER 

Yusuf CoverZafar, author of The Resurgence of Satyam published by Random House, India (2012) edits well- known literary journal KITAAB from Singapore. One of the laudable objectives of this journal is to introduce Asian writers to literary world. It surprised me when last year he offered to arrange for KITAAB an interview of mine by Russian poet Adolf  P.Shvedchikov. Anonymity is a virtue that springs humble amazements. At least, sometimes. Last month, he asked me if I could undertake a review of a book of poems titled YŪSUF and the LOTUS FLOWER, a debut book by Doyali Farah Islam as published by Buschek Books Ottawa.

Doyali is from Bangladesh and now lives in Canada where she is studying English and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, though as to her true dwelling place, she admits,’ I am borrowed breath/if you too are borrowed/we meet in the home of our breather.’ And as to the true motifs of the book, she, a daily practitioner of ‘Islamic prayer and Kundalini yogic meditation’ seeks ‘a weaving together of seemingly disparate spiritual paths.’ Books of poetry are tricky things particularly when many poetry books despite the flamboyance and élan that mark their (books) release functions, present content and form trivial enough to merit any attention. The best way seems to be to let the readers figure out for themselves intrinsically hidden meanings from the world the poet has shaped symbolically and metaphorically. The invisible rope hangs somewhere out there for them. This is the reason books of poetry are very difficult to review for the reviewer casts upon himself the job of not balancing things-he is to destabilize disequilibrium. Good poetry functions through disequilibrium. Merleau-Ponty aptly says inference is drawn as much from what words don’t reveal as what they do. Dark areas of meanings flowing from words are as important as bright areas.

There are 27 poems divided into seven parts-each part with a theme: commitment, dignity, character, divinity, grace, the power to sacrifice and happiness. In absence of any acceptance, even remotest, it might be that the poet unconsciously responds to the seven deadly sins through these seven themes. Derek Walcott in his famous essay,” The Muse of History’ distinguishes between actual experience of life and what is patterned and composed out of memory. Though there are memories of imaginations in many poems, actual life experiences seem to be impacting some poems. Poems in their manifold equivocations confirm that people are believers in a higher power shaping their destiny and be they Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Sufis, or Christians they bow their head in reverence to providence. An unremitting quest amidst spiritual turmoil for freedom of the soul and spiritual peace is visible in many poems as in I HAVE BEEN ‘I have been who you are/inside your sadness, thousands of times.’

In the poem I AM, she writes-

‘…into the cradle that cups my destiny

(that which you whispered all along

when I was not looking)

my tears that fall are beyond despair,

beyond ephemeral euphoria,

that short-lived joy, euphemerality.

In this poem: mobile, growing and active -the role of poetry: to reveal, and critique waning moral values is underscored perfectly. Lively feelings and beautiful expressions intermingle as we move forward through the active elements-‘ that cups my destiny’ ‘my tears’ ‘that fall’ ‘are beyond despair’ of the poem.

Most of these poems are intended to serve spiritual purpose and expand in wondrous ways like in the poem-THRUST: ‘these endings begin descanted/drops decanted from dawn, unstoppable/my friend, such wine/has tipped many times.’ With brain active and narrative skillfully done, Doyali, an imaginative poet compels her readers to bounce along the lines leaving them in the right in the middle of the symbols as if left in exitless rooms. For instance she writes in SANGFROID (PART-i): ‘my wordless whining/my thirst for calm union presses/splits atoms, and I come uncoiled/as from stolidity infinity moves me.’

Despite hard and harsh truth running beneath many poems that carry with them agony and frustrations, her poetry is therapy for those who are hurt and wounded and who believe, to put it in the words of W.B.Yeats, that ‘ …the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world……./The best lack the conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionless intensity.’ (The Second Coming) Her poems create, inhabit and explore various strands of spiritual streams which are one of the ways to represent the world.  In CARRYING, she correlates absence of sound with secrets of life-‘Ishmael, I become soundless/and everyone wants to tell me their secrets!’ Disconnected loneliness and intensity is yet another hallmark of hers. ‘she draws from without/dawn manifests the hidden.’ The strange within the ordinary and the intensity of pain assumes significance.

The scale and precision of imagery and rhetoric are very real. Doyali grapples with multitude of positions and scenarios but the sense of pacing is unique. Readers will not miss a feeling that poems, written in compressed manner, bleed with mystic love for Sufism and highlight the fundamental unity of all religions.   The spiritually rich images of ‘ ‘when I enter paradox/you are there/longing constricts the vessel of self/until self becomes a seed.’ are difficult to forget. Her poems can withstand and reward the intense, close scrutiny with criteria of poetry of aesthetic order. That apart, thoroughness of craft, poetic insight, sheer strength, verve and vitality may arrest readers’ attention. To round up, it is relevant to recall what 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Sylvia Legris says of Doyali’s book,’ It marks not only the debut of an extraordinary poet, but a fearless fusion of conviction and imagination, spirit and ink.’  

KKSK. K. Srivastava is an Indian Audit & Accounts Service Officer of 1983 batch and currently posted as Principal Accountant General (Audit), Madhya Pradesh at Gwalior. His third poetry collection Shadows of the Real was published in 2012 by Rupa & Co, New Delhi. His English poems as translated into Hindi by Dr Nar Deo Sharma will be published shortly by Vani Prakashan, New Delhi.