Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Skylight: Poems by Carol Muske-Dukes

First published:-1981

Republished:- By Open Road Media on June 10, 2014

Star rating:- 

One of my pet gripes with poetry is on full display in this poet's works - losing so much of time re-reading lines, fishing out implications from the layers of metaphor thrust upon allusion thrust upon circumlocution that in the battle between the reader's enthusiasm for emotionally connecting with the verses and sheer exasperation, exasperation wins. 
Poetry is meant to be savoured - the rhythm, the flow, the delicate alignment of pretty words combined with some semblance of purpose all taken in together - and not decrypted like some hidden code through multiple readings. It doesn't matter if the occasional pair of lines succeed in concealing their intent, their true significance, perhaps, too exclusive to the poet's inner life or too obscure to aid our understanding. But there should be a limit to this sort of penchant for inserting excessive imagery and hyperbole.

Don't take my complaints too seriously though. Finding poetry that hits just the right note is actually like finding the right shoe fit and hence the criteria that go into its determination will differ from reader to reader. Besides I had problems with only a few of the poems. Most of the remaining ones are exceptionally well-written and make their points with so much subtlety that you are more likely to miss them unless you keep your eyes peeled. 

I had no idea Carol Muske-Dukes (former Poet Laureate of California) had such a good knowledge of Indian history and an even firmer grasp over our cultural sensibilities. (Color me impressed) 
Her 'Ahimsa' on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (which is still regarded as one of the most barbaric things done to us by the British and which caused Tagore to reject his knighthood) is elegiac and deeply philosophical.

"Say you walked in the shadowy garden
in Amritsar, before night descended,
tried to imagine the massacre, that crazy saint
Gandhi and the people on their knees to a god
less civilized than he. You would
disagree, agree....
violence teaches nothing."

While 'War Crimes', a reflection on rape (a subject which Adrienne Rich versifies with more finesse, no doubt, in her Diving Into the Wreck) is wrenching and cerebral. 

"...that the great nerve
which runs from head to pelvis
which makes us courteous
shy
scrupulous
makes us touch another with gentleness
would tremble
till it was plucked
held in the pliers
then in the fire
shriveling in that little violence
of heat and light
which in another form
we often refer to
as love."

The variation in her themes is another noteworthy aspect of her range as a poet - subjects from abuse of young children, a daughter's view of her painter father, a child with a stuttering problem, an opium addict mourning the loss of his wife/lover, real estate, to the last set of poems which seem to be meditations on grief make appearances in this collection.

No points for guessing that the poems on India-related subjects, an old man in Benares carrying his dead wife in his arms to her pyre, the one on sexual violence and androgyny are my favorites from the collection. Yes I am predictable like that.


**I received an ARC from Open Road Integrated Media via Netgalley**

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Also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

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4 comments:

  1. You write so well.But its hard to understand all you write. I end up looking up the words you use

    ReplyDelete
  2. But just the apt usage of words. Keep it up

    ReplyDelete
  3. You could be eligible to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.

    ReplyDelete

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