Poets and Translators:
Kazue Shinkawa Rin Ishigaki Shinmin Sakamura Fumio Kataoka Kosaburo Nagatsu Jotaro Wakamatsu Naoshi Koriyama Hal Sirowitz Stanley H. Barkan Kelven Ka-shing LIT Peter Thabit Jones Mike Graves Bishnupada Ray Hassanal Abdullah Dhanonjoy Saha Matin Raihan Naznin Seamon Anisur Rahman Apu Tushar Prasun Shiblee Shaheed
Nicholas Birns Caroline Gill
William Heyen Bill Wolak
TIME THAT SEIZES HANDSby Caroline Gill (UK)
The breeze runs an eloquent finger through our hair ...
This arresting collection from Cross-Cultural Communications opens with an evocative poem about “casting off” from a port, in this case from New York, a city under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty, with what Emma Lazarus described more than a century ago as Liberty’s “beacon-hand,” glowing with “world-wide welcome.” Even before the first poem appears on the page, Hassanal Abdullah is quick to acknowledge Eliot, a man of the United States and the United Kingdom, who drew on mythological sources from east and west. The epigraph from The Waste Land places Under the Thin Layers of Light in a wavering multicultural universe in which time is a crucial but unsettling commodity, time that “seizes hands.” The image in “Ferry Ride” of launching out into a world of familiar and unfamiliar cultures is surely a suitable metaphor for the book itself. The poet is a master of dexterity when it comes to navigation. He can often be found “wriggling between hills” or deciphering the “unknown tongue” of the ocean of poetry. Hassanal Abdullah, described by Jyotirmoy Datta as “a phenomenon,” an apt title for this energetic poet-editor-translator, continues to expand the horizons of his unique world vision. As a poet from Bangladesh in New York, writing in Bengali and English (and as a teacher of Mathematics), Hassanal has a wealth of linguistic experience and expertise at his disposal, and he exploits this rich resource to great effect. The poet is well aware of the constraints and boundaries that so-called civilisation has imposed upon its people, but he prefers to envisage a fluid and united universe in which “words” can “swim across the land.” As the ferry embarks on its voyage in the opening poem, the reader soon encounters those on board who become anxious as a ship draws close on the starboard side. These passengers are in the company of more seasoned travellers who feel sufficiently at ease, rightly or wrongly, to start waving “kerchiefs at the people leaning on the rails of its deck.” This piece sets the scene for a collection that encompasses peaks of joy and depths of searing pain. An edgy undercurrent of potential menace lurks beneath the surface, rearing its head at intervals. To return to the opening poem, the unsuspecting reader is confronted with the image of waterfront warehouses, which may have housed “secret facilities for the making of nuclear bombs.” Even the industrial cranes lean like Indian vultures (Gyps indicus). In “Time seizes the Hands” the poet presents a list, indeed a veritable litany, of
war, hunger, perpetual public terror,
suspicion . . .
These words, piled one on top of the next, present a tragic, but not unrecognisable, worldview. The famous Wilfred Owen words about the poet’s ability to warn are surely not far beneath the surface. A human being can only take so much, and Hassanal’s final stanza propels the reader forward in a quest for “Total Truth,” from the chilling past to the unspoken future.
There may still be blood baths and their accompanying vultures, but all is far from doom and gloom in this collection. It is important to acknowledge the reality, which has indeed been a grim one in recent times. However, it is surely to the poet’s credit that his remarkable zest for the richest of life’s experiences has not merely surfaced in this unstable environment, but has indeed come to the fore.
This sense of joie de vivre is nowhere more finely evoked, it seems to this reviewer, than in the poems from the extended sonnet sequence, “A House on the Green.” In the second sonnet, translated from the Bengali by Purnima Ray, the collection’s initial leitmotif of the workaday ferry has been cast adrift in favour of a romantic metaphor in the guise of “the colourful raft” that “danced over the cloud.” Horror in this poem still has to be “crushed,” but “nature blinks with joy” as birds continue “to set their beautiful wings in the sky.”
In the third poem of the sonnet sequence, the reader is transported to the country of the poet’s birth. Here the built-up banks of the River Hudson have been exchanged for the rural meanderings of the Modhumoti, a distributory of the upper reaches of the Padma river. The gentle flow of this watercourse in Bangladesh enables the young, and perhaps somewhat idealistic, poet to begin “weaving hope” as he prepares to see the fulfilment of his dreams. There is a certain resonance with Yeats and his “small cabin” in the “bee-loud glade.” Parts of Shelley’s poem, “The Cloud,” also seem to come close: consider, for example, Shelley’s line about the “woof of my tent's thin roof.”
Love is the universal song of the poet. Hassanal approaches this theme with great tenderness and skilful application of metaphor. Love is often set against the shadows of political unrest and the uncertainties of human migration. There may still be real troubles to face as the lighthouse disappears below the horizon, but perhaps love’s ardour shines most brightly in times of unease or adversity. Ultimately, poetry may not be the cure for all ills, but the reader is left in no doubt that the clock of possibility is still ticking. In the words of “A House on the Green 37,”
sometimes, our minds swell in sorrow for home.
Amidst all this, love stretches out its hands to us ...
UNDER THE THIN LAYERS OF LIGHT by Hassanal Abdullah Translated from the Bengali by Jyotirmoy Datta, Nazrul Islam Naz, Siddique M. Rahman, Purnina Ray, Dhananjoy Saha and the poet. Publisher: Cross-Cultural Communications, Merrick, New York, 2015 (ed. Stanley H. Barkan) Library of Congress Number: 2015931015 ISBN 978-0-89304-788-7 $30 ISBN 978-0-89304-789-4 (pbk.) $15
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