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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Firesmoke - Sheniz Janmohamed

It’s been four years since Toronto poet Sheniz Janmohamed published her first collection of English ghazals. 

Bleeding Light was a bold attempt at fitting into a form that is not natural to the language, but she seemingly enjoyed the “discomfort of squeezing yourself into a form.” 

She described ghazals as “the cry of the gazelle when it is cornered by a hunter and knows it will die.”

Her first collection had some memorable ghazals.
The one that stayed with me was In Crimson because of its rich imagery.
In Crimson
A man sells packets of socks in a gully where most men walk barefoot.
What can he do but rest his head on that ledge, hastily painted crimson?

In Old Town, Allah hu Akbar pounds the walls of crumbling Fort Jesus.
A taxi cuts us off, Allah is Great plastered on his window – in crimson.

At the Coast, we bargain shillings for bags and kisii stone elephants.
Indians are not good customers. The seller brands our skin crimson.

Bombs detonate at the steps of every mosque, in the throat of every believer.
If Allah is a war cry, how can we lift Bismillah from asphalt stained crimson.

If only we planted a thousand trees for each page we discard and crumple.
When her last pen snaps, Israh will draw blood and scrawl words in crimson.

Recently, TSAR published Sheniz’s second collection of poems Firesmoke. It’s a combination of ghazals, free verse and short verse. The poems are in three sections – kindling (ghazals), fire (free verse) and smoke (short verse). 

In the Preface, Sheniz says, “…to write this poems, I had to locate, gather and lay down the kindling of my past – my attachments and fears – and watch them burn. I had to let go of my idea of what the future would hold and watch it disappear like smoke. The only presence that was present was the life of the fire itself.”

Time transforms everyone, ageing us, slackening our muscles, making our bones brittle, turning our breath sour. For all of us it’s an entirely avoidable process, especially because it doesn’t make us any wiser. Time transforms the poet, too, but in an entirely pleasant manner. It helps the poet discovers her voice, and although the journey is perhaps no less painful for the poet as it is for you and me, it is tremendously more enriching for the poet than it is for us, this is because time doesn’t necessarily mean the same to the poet as it does to us.

In Firesmoke, Sheniz has found her voice – wanderer, lover, mendicant, and activist, a lover of nature, and, of course, a woman. Some poems have a rough texture to them, the hoarseness of sloganeering. Some are impervious, impermeable. As in the first collection, the ghazals in the second collection weave a rich tapestry of imagery and emotion.
I liked Unleashed – perhaps because it describes a common Bombay occurrence.

They believed a witch unleashed a storm when she loosened her hair.
How many hurricanes have hurled through towns because of your hair?

Leaning against a traffic light, a ragged street doll clasps her hands together.
A couple of coins will never rinse the pain out from her dirt-streaked hair.

Each strand of her hair is silk spun from the night. She will never tie it.
She tells me her power is not in her hands, lips, eyes. It’s in her hair.

Her glance is an arrow cracking the oak of your heart.
Even thunder whispers when Israh unties her hair.

Israh is Sheniz’s takhallus

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