ed. by Leslie McGrath and Ravi Shankar
Drunken Boat Press, 2010
Review by Hannah Eason
Wanting to read this poetry collection within a fair context – other than the context of my unfamiliarity with Hindu American poetry, that is – I often read over notes provided by the editors who collaborated to bring these last poems of Reetika Vazirani to light.
Within the freedom of poetry, any deductions drawn are fragile. It is an artform in which it never hurts to get acquainted with the poet’s body of work, known history, known political inclinations, and so on. This can help the reader begin with a working hypothesis, already somewhat wisened by past experiments. An explanatory note I found very helpful came from the elegant foreword written by Kazim Ali: “Breath moves through a poetic line beginning to end, but in Reetika Vazirani’s three volumes of poetry we see a different treatment of breath – breath that interrupts itself, sometimes in mid-exhale, breath that swirls around and returns, as it does at the top of an inhale or bottom of an exhale in the yogic practice of pranayama.”
In examples such as the following from “Preference of Vishnu” (pg. 9), breathing is highly detectable.
“now to switch a cloak a ring
who am I Arjuna’s charioteer?
discus lotus mace or conch?
do I drive whose wheels?”
The pace of her writing from one poem to the next becomes connotative of how easily or with what labor her breath comes as she broaches a certain topic. Her breath can be excitable, or it can be lengthy, monotonous, desperate for a break.
Radha Says is a collection in which the devices of poetry are so well integrated that they themselves further mimic breath – devices merging with message for the sake of a solid creation, just as yoga practitioners integrate mind and body with their practiced consciousness.
I found myself needing to read many of the poems a third then fourth time before feeling confident I had read what Vazirani wrote. This exemplified the analysis of her poetry provided by Kazim Ali, who stated that each line can answer the line before it, stand on its own, or open the door for the line that follows. This multipurpose aspect of her work seems to point to her perspective, to the purposeful integration of parts. The structure of her poetry seems to continually offer her readers the ghosts of past, present and future as help-mates. By brevity and depth, the structure then asks the reader to determine her own preferred mind-set among the three. Will the final impression taken away from a poem be reflective, forward-leaning, or clarifying of the present moment?
In the spirit of most subtly handled, skillful poetry, I believe Vazirani’s words can act to the reader as a mirror. In getting close enough to the mirror to make out finer details, one tends to see the fog of her own breath.