Map to Poetry

I can only write in long winding, faltering sentences about poetry. It gives me the freedom to not pen down the exact words but float in the emotion endlessly. What a boon for the mere mortals that we are.  

Poetry while extremely important in my repertoire of reading, is something that I find myself reading either in obsessive runs or read slowly gathered over curated online portals and forgotten pages picked up and re-read for the nth time – each time latching to newly discovered depths in between words. 

I realise that finding poetry that speaks to you, is a journey unto itself and one of the more satisfying ones at that. But it always helps to have some map to begin any discovery with, so here is the map that I can draw for you – it is filled with contemporary poetry collections and recommendations. 

Salt – Nayyirah Waheed  

Nayyirah Waheed is a beautiful poet, who is succinct in her writing and explores selfhood, ideas of masculinity, immigrant experience and at the very center of it all, the art of poetry itself.  

“what  
massacre  
happens to my son  
between  
him  
living within my skin.  
drinking my cells.  
my water.  
my organs.  
and  
his soft psyche turning cruel.  
does he not remember  
he  
is half woman.  
– from” 

Her form is fragmented, stream of consciousness which is incredibly both vague and final in its meaning. It brings the Instagram famous short poetry form to a place of substance and elevates the stories that the poet is sharing. It makes for a great introduction to poetry that is raw, authentic and WOC POV.  

“men give birth, too.  
to children.  
to longings.  
to dreams.  
that they must hide.  
their stomachs.  
their uteruses.  
their hungers.  
their softness. 
their cravings for touch.  
to be  
 
man.  
is the thing  
that closes their light.  
and  
eats their eyes.  
– him” 

Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini 

Sea Prayer is my only brush with Hosseini as a poet, but the power of that encounter is such that the poem keeps returning to me. Sea Prayer was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach the Safety in Europe in 2015. 

“I have heard it said we are the uninvited. 
We are the unwelcome. 
We should take our misfortune elsewhere.  
But I hear your mother’s voice, 
over the tide. 
and she whispers in my ear, 
“Oh, but if they saw, my darling. 
Even half of what you have. 
If only they saw. 
They would say kinder things, surely.” 
 
Sea Prayer is the only singular poem on my list, amidst all the collections. It is also a masterfully illustrated book by Hosseini himself. A poem a father writes to his son as they escape their war-torn nation by sea.  

 
If They Come For Us – Fatimah Asghar 

This is Fatimah Asghar’s debut collection of poetry, and the emotions that she records onto paper and memory are astounding. What fascinates me with her work, is the form, the absolution of it, the varying degrees of it and vehement refusal to stick to a popularized form. Poetry is hard to talk and quantify for these very reasons, because it is not bound by rules, it is ephemeral and ever changing, but therein lies the thrill of seeking to engage with it.  

“Everyone wants Kashmir but no one wants Kashmiris. 
Aren’t I a miracle? A seed that survived the slaughter & slaughters to come. 
I think I believe in freedom I just don’t know where it is. 
I think I believe in home, I just don’t know where to look.” 

The poet captures experiences of partition and of being a Pakistani woman in America, while exploring themes of abandonment, family, race and identity. 
 
I also will be remiss if I fail to acknowledge the beautiful cover art by Shyama Golden. A collection put together seamlessly in every aspect.  

“Mashallah I claim them all  
my country is made 
in my people’s image 
if they come for you they 
come for me too… 
… I see you map 
my sky the light your lantern long 
ahead & I follow I follow” 

Afterimage – Werner Kho 

Werner Kho brings you grief, longing and nostalgia in vehicles teeming with metaphors and imagery. When he talks of grief as an ocean, you find that you float right alongside his experience, no matter how specific or unique it may be.  

“a pair of bodies coming apart 
at the edges, homesick for different homes”. 

Afterimage, an image that continues to appear even after the original image has ceased – is how he describes this collection. As I walk through the rooms of a house, grieving loss with him, or understand how life changes between lesser candles on your cake and more people around to more candles on the cake and lesser people around; it may seem merely observant, but quickly fills you with emotions that you sit with a long time.  

“Who made loss into 
the color blue and turned us 
int oceans of grief? If bodies 
are 60% water, doesn’t that mean 
we’ve known a kind of loss 
all our lives? Is your shade of loss 
an electric-blue, or a subtler shade 
of slate? Will our shores ever touch? 
Will we ever learn how to swim?” 

Afterimage is published by Math Paper Press, which is an imprint of BooksActually. BooksActually is located in Singapore but delivers worldwide, make sure to check out their website. 

The Lover’s Inventory – Cyril Wong 

“I’ve never wanted 
a man who doesn’t understand 
the brokenness in a singer’s voice; 
who has never woken up 
with shards of melody in his head” 

A heartfelt exploration of lovers – the many types, the many kids, the varied memories, the gifts they give and the objects they leave behind. Cyril Wong brings together this collection by bringing mellifluous poetry to experiences that happen often enough to be considered banal but never are. He weaves narratives with the aspects that are exhilarating and heartbreaking, making sure that there is representation for us all.  

“nothing on my mind besides the odd feeling 
that although this journey was supposed 
to be brief, the driver was taking 
too long to bring me home”. 

The Lover’s Inventory is published by Math Paper Press, which is an imprint of BooksActually. BooksActually is located in Singapore but delivers worldwide, make sure to check out their website. 

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth – Warsan Shire 

The truth in poetry is potent, and when it lends itself to a wordsmith such as Warsan Shire, what comes off it is magic. Not the kind that comforts you, but the kind that wakes you and makes you forever live in awe. Warsan Shire’s voice is built with a raw clarity that is undeniable.  

“Mother says there are locked rooms  
inside all women.  
Kitchen of lust, bedroom of grief, bath- 
room of apathy.  
Sometimes, the men – they come with keys, 
and sometimes, the men – they come  
with hammers”. 

Warsan shire narrates with great capability and skill, armed with authenticity the stories of immigrants, of displacement, of burning cities and wars, of women, of crimes against the minority and of helplessness.  

If there is one book you choose to read, let it be this, let it be this. 

“Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? … No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language… I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget 

The feature image of this post is by artist – Sonaksha Iyengar.