A Review of Prose Poems: Βιβλίο Άλφα
Prose Poems: Βιβλίο Άλφα
AuthorHouse UK, 2020
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Saad Ali’s latest book titled Prose Poems: Βιβλίο Άλφα follows upon earlier three volumes from him, i.e. Ephemeral Echoes (2018), Metamorphoses: Poetic Discourses (2019) and Ekphrases: Book One (2020). There is thus a substantive body of verse available to identify the main features of his poetry, and appreciate the development of his art in terms of style as well as content. The first three books reflect a deeply considered view of the art and craft of poetry. His poems reflect a dialectical relationship with life, nature, religion, philosophy and politics. Saad Ali has developed an unmistakable personal imprimatur in all of his work which enables his creative signature to be easily recognised. This itself is a considerable achievement. He has emerged as a poet with a distinct world view and a distinctive voice to express the same aesthetically.
In this essay, I wish to examine his latest work in the perspective of continuity and change. I believe the present volume reflects the poet’s development as a thinking individual as well as a literary craftsman. I see elements of intellectual and poetic growth which I believe need to be highlighted.
Saad’s poetry to date stands unabashedly grounded in a world view based on his erudition and cogitation. It is the world view of a Homo philosophicus poeticus, a term he frequently employs in his verse. Broadly speaking, I interpret his world view as one based on naturalism, reason, the cyclic nature of existence, and the conception of selfhood as a product of the mind. In this perspective, phenomena are characterised by dualisms and dichotomies. His verse abounds in echoes of abstract themes like Absence/Presence, Nothingness/Beingness, Mind/Matter and Permanence/Transience. These subjects appear in the poetic texts as thoughts, musings, meditations often expressed epigrammatically. The dualism consciousness is something structural in the texture of his work.
However, in the present book, I perceive a sea-change that is both subtle and pervasive. There is a shift away from the earlier passionate commitment to abstractions expressing philosophical and existential themes, especially those highlighting dualisms and dichotomies. We now perceive a palpable narrowing down, even bridging of those dualisms and dichotomies through his creative process. In the past there are oscillations between the extreme ends of dualisms and dichotomies. But in the present poems, I see the poet endeavouring at a creative synthesis, leading to a fresh balance and blending of life’s binaries. The shift involves a change from a largely philosophical self to an essentially aesthetic self, able to harmonise the dualisms at the experiential and existential levels. In this way, the concrete and the abstract have been brought together in the book in hand.
This book contains poems divided into five categories: Accounts of the Human Condition, Instances of Affection and Romance, Political Messages, Philosophical Reflections and a part labelled as See Ye Around, which carries both the Epilogue and the Prelude. For the purposes of illustrating the shift in focus from the abstract to the concrete described above, I will take up the poems in the parts dealing with human condition and philosophical reflections because of their greater relevance in this regard.
The very first poem in Part I is titled ‘Transition’ in which the poet makes a significant announcement: "I’m finished with the choir of the metaphysical and I’ve begun the symphony of the physical." Thought is still important as "the mother of inventions" ("The Message"), but the language of abstractions is no longer allowed to shape the substance of poetic discourse: "I’m done with allowing metaphors and allegories taking liberty with me"; and "I’m done with imitating myself … ." The mellower vision I speak about is best conveyed in the poem titled "The Hanuman Langur," which, in my opinion, is also "the human langur," continually hanging, switching, migrating and immigrating from one realm of experience and thought to another in search of significance. There is an important caution found in the text against "excess." The Pen and the Tablet in this poem are symbols of a deeper and higher experience the poet is heir to. One of the finest poems in the volume titled "Poet and Poetry" speaks of a poet’s unique role in seeking meaning equally in nature and people, and of making sense of "oxymorons," "juxtapositions" and "amalgamations" of life’s experiences. The centrality of experience melding memory and aesthetic sensibility is delicately expressed in the poem called "Self-Portrait" where the poet’s early infatuation in Kashmir is described as a landmark in his "pilgrimage to Self." It results not in highbrow philosophical abstractions but in a marvellous blend of everyday emotion and poetry, blending the feelings of loss and joy.
One of my favourite poems in the volume is "Mind and Heart." The poem’s beauty lies in its epigrammatic expressions of the mind/heart relationship. For example: "Heartbreaks are good. They put the mind in its place," and further: "Heart is art; Mind is poetry." But in the end the heart/mind dualism is resolved existentially through a living experience "at the mill of the mind and heart."
It would be remiss to conclude that the shift in the poet’s perspective towards experience means a total disconnect with the earlier themes of philosophy and life. Those themes continue to be important, but the difference lies in the way they mould and shape the poems. Nor is there any let up in the vision of compassion which has informed his work like a permanent presence. Thus, poems in Part III and Part IV continue to take up these theme of cruelty, injustice and oppressions and are evidence of continuity in the poet’s development. Abstractions too still matter. His two powerful renderings of Iqbal ("The World") and Parveen Shakir ("Circle") are a validation of the more abstract formulations close to his heart and art. Iqbal’s poem is essentially philosophical and underscores the need for an esoteric inner vision. Parveen Shakir’s poem illustrates a cyclical view of life and its suffering. It should be compared with Saad’s own poem titled "Decay," which highlights the inevitability of things as captured in the telling phrase ‘flow becomes inert’. Another significant poem in this volume on the theme of inevitability is "Truth is Beautiful." It recalls Paul Gauguin’s famous questions: "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" The answer in Saad’s poem comes in terms of love’s tender solace howsoever tenuous, and the song of the "bulbul" even if it becomes a wail in memory’s extensive cage. One is not always sure about the beauty of abstract truth, but the human experience cited in the poem is certainly beautiful.
This brings me to the subject of the prose poem as an art form in the eyes of Saad Ali, the poet. The prose poem emerges as a major mode of expressing and realising this creativity. I see this shift in terms of form as a major development. It is intimately connected to the fresh focus on the experiential aspect of human life as a source of creativity and indeed of aesthetic fulfilment.
This book of verse is full of odes to the form of the prose poem, which the poet has come to accept as his main mode of expression. It is no coincidence that his romance with the prose poem is accompanied with embracing poetry in terms of physical human experience rather than philosophical abstraction. The poet is at pains to explain the poetic process in a number of pieces in the book. In the "Prolegomenon" he wishes to inform his reader "What a prose poem is and isn’t." He sums up the difference in terms of becoming "direct with existence and life." This new orientation to direct experience without interference or interceptions is effectively taken up in the poem "Look! There is a Poem!"—apropos Bill Traylor’s painting Brown House with Multiple Figures and Birds. The poem closes with the lines: "Bill, you painted the poem. I’ve penned your painting." Their borders are erased, and poetry and painting become interchangeable from the standpoint of Art as a unifying vision and an all-embracing creative force. "There is a thin line between the abstract and the concrete," says the poet in the "Prelude’"placed at the end of the book. The prose poem is to be celebrated on this count, but it also constitutes his declaration of his new poetics: "I am done with being concise … and I am starting with being comprehensive- i.e. long and loose-fit poems" ("Transition").
Saad Ali expresses a deep sense of delight in embracing the prose poem. I think a good parallel of his feeling is Chapman’s joy on discovering Homer afresh. No discussion on Saad’s poetry would be complete without mentioning his fundamental view of Art as a source of joy in an existence with Sisyphean connotations. In the "Prelude," the poet exclaims proudly and with a palpable sense of satisfaction: "But I have a story to tell, for sure." That joy is evident also in poems like "Poet and Poetry": "You and I, we’re all poets." And: "It’s life but unlike any other life, life of a poet is." Among a number of poems celebrating his joy in writing poetry are "Composing Art" and "Critique," in which he says: "There are no poets, only poems." And finally one must mention the poem "A Conversation between a Poet and a Painter," which is really a celebration of poetry as an authentic aesthetic experience, at once human and humane.
This book marks a milestone in Saad Ali’s intellectual and artistic development. It reflects a transition from the universe of abstractions to the world of the concrete. It coruscates with wit and imagination, irony and satire, as well as compassion and humanism. It continues to reflect his forte for reflection and meditation, and transcends beyond to capturing the undulations of human existence. These poems have been conceived in a spirit of joyfulness and a profound sense of fulfilment. I have no doubt that Saad Ali’s verse will be a source of joy and fulfilment to all serious connoisseurs of poetry.
Ejaz Rahim was born in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He is a Senior Civil Servant (Retired). He earned his Masters Degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands and MA in English Literature from the Government College, Lahore, Pakistan. He is a poet and an author of over twenty books of poetry including: I, Confucius and Other Poems (2011), That Frolicsome Mosquito Our Universe (2014), Through the Eyes of the Heart (2014), et cetera. He holds the honour of Sitara-e-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan for his contributions to the English Literature and Literary Scene in the country. Currently, he resides at the foot of the Margalla Hills in the Capital, Islamabad, with his life-long partner.
Saad Ali (b. 1980 C.E. in Okara, Pakistan) has been brought up in the UK and Pakistan. He holds a BSc and an MSc in Management from the University of Leicester, UK. He is an existential philosopher-poet and a translator. Ali has authored four books of poetry, which include: Ephemeral Echoes (AuthorHouse, 2018), Metamorphoses: Poetic Discourses (AuthorHouse, 2019), Ekphrases: Book One (AuthorHouse, 2020), and Prose Poems: Βιβλίο Άλφα (AuthorHouse, 2020). He is a regular contributor to The Ekphrastic Review. By profession, he is a Lecturer, Consultant and Trainer/Mentor. Some of his influences include: Vyasa, Homer, Ovid, Attar, Rumi, Nietzsche, and Tagore. He is fond of the Persian, Chinese and Greek cuisines. He likes learning different languages, travelling by train and exploring cities on foot. To learn more about his work, please visit www.saadalipoetry.com.
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