Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1447286004
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Alone is a story of wilderness and survival. I also think to a large extent it is the story of what it takes to rebuild and reconstruct life amidst tragedy (seemingly) and secrets (intentionally kept). This enough should get you to read this book. However, I shall tell you more so you do for sure read this one.

“The Great Alone” begins with Ernt Allbright dragging his wife, Cora and his daughter, Leni into a wilderness experience to Alaska to run away from his demons. Ernt has come home from the Vietnam War – a changed and hostile man. His daughter is thirteen and on the brink of adolescence. She is caught in her parents’ tumultous relationship and only wants some peace of mind. Mother and daughter will both follow the man wherever he takes them. They just want a new beginning.

In all of this, is Alaska. The daunting land, the unknown terrain that they enter and as winter approaches they realize that things aren’t what they thought it would be. Hannah’s writing seems simple initially, but as the layers run deep, it becomes complex. Not that any of it isn’t readable but there is so much going on that you have to pause and think about what you just read.

Alaska in itself is a major character. The bleakness, the winter and the darkness, coupled with Ernt’s fragile mental state, Lena and Cora are locked in for eighteen hours in their small cabin. The action has only begun. The terrors from within show up and that’s where I will not say anything more and wait for you to read the book.

Hannah’s writing is terrifying in this one. “The Nightingale” was a relatively tender book. “The Great Alone” demands writing (which the author delivers) that explores the dark recesses of the mind, the heart and the soul. It is a story of immense loss and how to perhaps recover or not from it. Kristin Hannah does a stupendous job of exploring emotions – the dark side and the ones in the light and what happens when the two merge. I would highly recommend this title.

 

 

Longform: Volume 1: An Anthology of Graphic Narratives. Edited by Sarbajit Sen, Debkumar Mitra, Sekhar Mukherjee and Pinaki De.

Longform Volume 1 Title: Longform Volume 1: An Anthology of Graphic Narratives
Edited by Sarbajit Sen, Debkumar Mitra, Sekhar Mukherjee and Pinaki De
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9352775972
Genre: Graphic Novel, Graphic Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Graphic novel love began way back for me, in about 2006, I think. Landmark at Infiniti Mall, Andheri had just opened. My friend N and I used to love meeting there (for obvious reasons, of course) and before we knew we used to finish reading graphic novels, right there. We would buy them as well. After all, we knew what it was like for authors to not make money. That was then. I also vividly remember my first graphic novel – read in 2004 (yeah, at that time I did not know it was called a graphic novel), called “Maus”. I also think “Maus” is like the initiation to graphic novels. Either that or “Persepolis”. And today, graphic novels are the rage. Easier to read, linger in your memories a lot longer and a popular genre by far in the country.

“Longform: Volume 1” is a fantastic anthology of graphic narratives. I honestly do not even know where to start praising it. I am not saying this because I love HarperCollins books. I say this, because, after PAO, published by Penguin India, this is the second of its kind anthology in the country – which readers so deserve and want and there should be more of such anthologies. While “PAO” focused mainly on Indian artists and storytellers, “Longform” takes it a step further to involve artists from all parts of the world, thereby providing the reader with a stunning word and image experience.

It was very difficult for me to consolidate my thoughts for this review. Where does one begin talking about a book this diverse? Or should one even attempt? Well, one must do what one should and what one can I suppose. From the legendary (rarely) to the mythical, to the political to the romantic, “Longform” touches on almost every single genre and within that, there is a world of other art forms that seem to be born. Whether it is just simple line drawing or the more complex art form, the reader cannot choose what to focus on – the art or the story. Everything then matters in the grand scheme of the book that you hold in your hand.

“Longform” also doesn’t restrict itself to the graphic form alone. While it is majorly only that, there are also snippets of interviews, back stories of artists and authors and the ideation process as well, which of course, only adds to the magnificence of the book. I also am not mentioning any pieces in particular, because I honestly would love readers and graphic form enthusiasts to be intrigued a little more about this book, go out and pick it up, nestle in your favourite reading spot and devour it cover to cover, only to start all over again.

 

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking Title: Where the Dead Sit Talking
Author: Brandon Hobson
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1616958879
Genre: Coming of Age
Pages: 288
Source: Author
Rating: 5 Stars

Coming of age stories are always appealing to me. Somewhere or the other, they spring up and I read them and get all nostalgic about growing-up too soon or growing-up and not realizing that it happened. “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is one such book. Also, might I add here that coming-of-age stories could also take place at a time when you are also an adult, however, this one is set on the brink of adolescence and is illuminating and intensely psychological at the same time.

“Where the Dead Sit Talking” is not a regular coming of age book. It is raw, jagged at the edges and tackles some major issues such as child abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and neglect without any pretense. Also, to some extent it draws on the flaws of the American foster care system (I’ve always wondered how efficient that is, but I guess there is another book for that at another time).

The book is set in the late ‘80’s, Sequoyah a fifteen-year-old, is the narrator of the book. He has moved from one foster home to another (his mother is serving jail time), till he seems to settle with this one family in Little Crow and that’s where the story begins. He forms an instant connection with one of the other foster children there – Rosemary and that forms the crux of the book.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t sugar coat brutality. It is there for all to read and experience, no matter if you are cringing or don’t want to turn another page (which you wouldn’t want to, because this book is that good), read you must.

Hobson’s characters are so flawed and waiting for redemption so long, that you start hoping for them. Brandon’s prose is simple and yet striking, it is layered and easy to read, which to me are fantastic about very few books. Also, the Native-American narrative is so needed (was always needed) and comes out powerfully in the book. At the heart of it though, “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is about humans – battered, lonely, the ones who do things and then regret and sometimes there is no regret as well. It is a book waiting to share its secrets with you, it is more than just a coming-of-age book – the one that will move and haunt you in equal measure.

Missing by Sumana Roy

Missing by Sumana Roy Title: Missing
Author: Sumana Roy
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN:978-9386021991
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 267
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There are some books that seep deep into​ your skin and sometimes you don’t even realize what they have done. “Missing” for me is one of those books. The premise as the title suggests might be that of a missing person, in this case, a missing woman, but at the core, it is about parts that go missing of ourselves and sometimes, actually most of the time, we don’t even know it.

“Missing” by Sumana Roy is so much more than what meets the eye, that it will be very difficult for me to explain what is going on in the book and in effect, what I felt as I turned its pages.

“Missing” is the kind of book that sneaks up on you in ways you wouldn’t imagine (when I say this, I mean it with the utmost good intentions). It is the summer of 2012. A young girl is molested in Guwahati. Kobita, a fifty-four-year-old activist, based out of Siliguri decides to travel to Guwahati to search for the molested girl who has gone missing. Her blind husband and poet, Nayan, is left at home, constantly waiting to hear from her. They have a son, Kabir, who is doing his research in England, on the Hill Cart road that connects Siliguri to Darjeeling. The book is about the seven days that happen in the month of July, 2012.

I will tell you why I loved Missing so much. “Missing” is a book about common people, going through life, leading seemingly common lives, till something happens. The relationship of Nayan and Kobita (so ironic that their names mean eyes and poetry when translated) is so fragile and yet Roy very tactfully doesn’t show things to the reader, till a certain time has passed in the book. In all of this, there is the making of a new bed for Nayan and Kobita, and Nayan has no choice but to depend on the carpenter and his family when it is clear that Kobita will not return anytime soon.

“Missing” to me was also about relationships that are lost and at sea and perhaps have no chance of being repaired. Do you know how that feels? Has it ever happened to you?

The writing will leave you melancholic for days and if you still want to feel a little distraught and liberated at the same time, I recommend Roy’s other book, “How I Became A Tree”. Roy’s writing is not the usual run of the mill. Why do I love her writing? She doesn’t judge anyone through her writing. There is no right or wrong. Her narration skills are superlative and research on point.

All in all, what I think is: “Missing” is a book of dashed hopes, of wanting to account for more in life and above all about what it is that makes us human or not after all. It is a book that will make you feel differently in different points of the read and will perhaps also make you question what you believe in or not.