Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A fabulous, full-length Amazon Review of Quaking Cantos by British poet, Maria Heath Beckett


5.0 out of 5 stars Quaking CantosSeptember 13, 2016
This review is from: Quaking Cantos: Nepal Earthquake Poems (Paperback)
Yuyutsu Sharma opens his collection in 'Twisted Galaxies' with a depiction of recovering ‘fragments of sleep.’ and this image together with the mention of the frogs and the cicadas seems like a waking up out of the terrible trauma which has ravaged Nepal in the form of the recent earthquakes. We are taken swiftly into the experience of the narrator, through the first person wakening, an image of vulnerability, contrasted with powerful verbs and phrases chosen to describe the destructive processes of the earthquake, such as ‘punctured', ‘fractured’, ‘sullied earth’... ‘debased glaciers’, ‘beguiled stars’ and ‘twisted galaxies’ , details which effectively evoke a palpable tension, and an image of traumatised nature. In general, dynamic verbs are used throughout the text to strong effect, enabling a honing down of embellishment, whilst preserving the vivid emotions at play. The careful selection of specific instead of general event also ensures that the poet creates dramatic tension through the particular instead of the vague.

In the following poem, 'Head Piece', we start to picture the local dwelling places, the focus on materials adding significant detail, redolent of building work and effort largely destroyed. We read about the ‘terracotta and wooden struts, sliced out of a single tree,’ for example, and the ‘timeless wooden pagoda,’ building and fabric suddenly unstable, fragile, uncertain, as we read about the ‘mad dash’ out from the canopy, the narrator identified then with an ant, which reminds me of Gregor waking up as an insect in Kafka’s Metamorphosis; the transformation here is nature at nature's hand, but a similar sense, the way I see it, of loss of control and the strangeness of the spatial sense of body is evoked.

I had not known what to expect when I first heard about Yuyu’s poems about the earthquake, but any doubts about how close this poet felt the trauma of this natural catastrophe is clarified in 'Glint,' a visceral description of a victim’s humility in death. Here we have a vocabulary set hinging on movement, ‘bundled’, ‘wounded’, ‘shackled’ and ‘cuffed’, ‘shuddering’ and ‘derange’, lexical choices personifying the natural onslaught in terms of an aggressor humiliating the victim into a loss of both physical and psychic structure. The reader comprehends here, the full extent to which the events have traversed this poet, leaving a palpable, intense trace, of the sheer shock that lays somewhere beyond, hinted at by words of such force. The language seems chosen for rhythmic, syncopated effect as well as meaning and this surely, is partly how the poem succeeds to catalyse in us an actual physical experience of the earthquake, conveyed here much like an attack.

The collection moves on, and I must leave the works to be discovered by the readers for themselves, but I will highlight a few further themes:
Suffering and vulnerability:
In 'Nipple' we are faced with an unflinching portrays of human vulnerability in the form of a baby searching, vainly, for it’s mother’s breast, but finds only earth’s ‘cold chest’. This theme continues, with the death of ‘grandma’ on the ‘grassy ground’ which finds the narrator here in standing in tears beneath the sky, and it seems here as if all emotion and sorrow is somehow exposed by the disaster that has torn through the usual protective enclaves of home, custom and form. The poet draws the reader’s attention to both the raw and spontaneous downfall of tears, and the paradoxical, ‘frozen caverns’ of his eyes, the narrator here evidently stunned with loss and grief.

Portrayals of the sheer defencelessness of building and community follow, the prayers of priest, hopeful to the last, no way to deflect the destructive course of nature. Later, the image of ‘smashed brass bells, guilt of possessing tongues that kept millions captive to atrocious citadels’ … continues the theme of the transience of religion and custom in the face of such disaster. The houses like wrestlers flopping and ‘prostrate’ is a further image of the vanquishing of building and home.

The theme of devastation is counter-pointed with the effort shown at recovering routines, by the market traders for example, in 'Reeking Armpits', selling their wares, and in close writing about the courage shown amongst villagers. We feel by that point in the book, that we need that sense of relief and recovery and these poems are well placed, to reflect the delay, patience and fortitude required in the restoration of their lives. The recounted survival of a nine month old baby is a poignant detail the reader will find gives some comfort after the appalling events.

Quaking Cantos - an impassioned response to the earthquakes in his native country and place of residence for half of every year.
A genuine, heartfelt response that spares no pain, but tells it as it was, neither pandering to an over sensitive reader by lessening the force, nor overdoing his recount to the point of over indulgence. This is where poetry as document really works, in honing into the specific detail that struck a real chord with the poet. The broad-sweep is for the newscaster, whereas the poignant close focus is for the writer who walks amongst the remains and writes it down in their own, unschooled words; for how can anyone ever be prepared for such an event? And where find literary precedent or source material or guiding inspiration? There may be none, and at times like this it is the way that the heartbeats or the sound of your own footfall that is the key to the language found. The earthquake takes the poet and the reader into an experience beyond the interpretative world of today’s media and into the raw perception of a poet amongst ruins and slow and gradual recovery.

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