Danka Nama #18 –> Poetics I

Dear Readers,

I hold in my hands the 9:1 Winter 2012 Volume of the Vallum Magazine for new international poetics, listening to paperclouds by Basheer & and the Pied Pipers. Should I continue the Listen series (I  and II) or start with Poetics I? I opt for the latter and will keep listening another two weeks before I write on the electronic, death metal and post-rock genres in the Pakistani soundscape.

When I heard about the existence of Vallum and its current Pakistan focus I rushed to the virtual counter to order – only to find out it only delivered to the North American Continent. Martin – one of the newsletter writers from Lahore in the early days of Danka, now based in Canada – was a quick helping hand and the Magazine arrived in my post box three days ago. Just early enough for me to read, write and invite all danka-nama readers based in Canada to my orchestra’s concert tour to Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Brockville from coming Monday – Dvorak Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony. Come and say hi, we will be having a round of danka-drinks after the concert in Montreal on Friday.

The Vallum collection is for Poetry what the Pakistani indie-music scene is for Music – it fortunately leaves you no reasonable chance to spin a numb Foreign Policy article from it. Later in the series I will look at another very new Poetry publication, which does exactly that and has been taken up by international media as such. Just like Ali Azmat songs have been foremost regarded as an expression of geopolitical sentiment (at least when they were briefly in the media two years ago), Poetry looses much of its intention as a an art form when solely stripped down to some messages interpreted by its readers. Recall the recent Gunter Grass controversy. He may have as well posted a facebook entry, the power lay in the controversy, not in the poem.

I cherish that non-allusion to the expectation of the average reader, while seeing that I find it hard myself to not link expressions of artforms to the common terror/failed-state imagination of the country. Being constantly confronted with this imagination through the media and in conversations, one cannot laud efforts enough, which manage to stay completely clear of it. There has been a longer discussion in this vein after the publication of the Granta Pakistan edition, to which I want to direct the interested reader (you find the discussion here).

The Vallum Editors felt no need to satisfy the obvious, neither in their choice of Poems nor the accompanying texts and the excellent art works by Faiza Butt – listen to Dingbat the Singing Cat by Dalt Wisney from Karachi while looking at them closely.

Ilona Yusuf writes a brief essay on Mapping Pakistani Poetry. She argues for what English constitutes as a language in Pakistan (… is it really still the language of Power in the country? – I’ll have to get back to that in another Series) and thus provides some explanation why this is a collection of English poetry only. If you are interested in translations from the Vernacular, the Magazine also includes a review of the book Modern Poetry of Pakistan (edited by Iftikhar Arif and Waqas Khawaja, Dalkey Archive Press 2011, 352 pp.).

The article will leave you with many names you want to look out for if you are interested in Poetry from Pakistan – and that you will be after reading the selection of poems included.

Read – and here I have to turn Visiting by Mole, Karachi again, off – Bilal Tanweer’s Breaths. Each stanza starts with words that invariably make you read flowingly only to stumble suddenly over words that break the smoothness of his verse. While having to reread it (similarly his second poem Lightness) to grasp its (multitudes of) contexts, you will feel like reading the words out loud. Of the whole collection, Tanweer’s do hold the greatest joy if you fancy poems for their verbal music.

The search you see, is how to look away.
I feel like someone who fights darkness with his hands.

(excerpt from Lightness, Bilal Tanweer)

While Tanweer’s poetry music has no refrains to sing along and corresponds more to the playlist of indie outfits I will look at in the coming parts of the Listen series, Faraz Maqsood Hamidi’s poems would rather be a song by Noori. His G.O.P. is not only a flowing read, but fits perfectly well as a commentary to the political turmoil of recent days.

I understand why we fail to bother.
Decades have been sidelined to elevate
One motherfucker after another.

Apathy’s not a hard task to master
Forgive the misgiving of every day.
I understand why we fail to bother.

(excerpt from G.O.P., Faraz Maqsood Hamidi)

The volume does not embellish itself with representing modern Pakistani Poetry (for which it obviously lacks the contributions in the vernacular) nor does it tinker lightly with pop-culture approaches that would go down smoothly with readers in Pakistan as well as abroad – only briefly Ilona Yusuf in her well informed essay touches on the impact of the Sufi traditions! Contributors include writers based in Pakistan and abroad, with very short pieces that allude to casual observations of daily life nowhere specific as well as long poems with a historical narrative, like Moniza Alvi’s At the Time of Partition.

The empire held fast like a sheet –
And shook out.

(excerpt from At the Time of Partition, Moniza Alvi)

I can never do enough justice to the beauty of the assembled words in this collection – and it will take myself numerous more rereads to find new shadings. You’ll have to get hold of the edition yourself to see, read – aloud – and then hear yourself. One can order the edition here, where also some online content is provided.


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