Poetry: Rounding Out the Edgesby Jim Feast
Yuyutsu RD Sharma, Annapurna Poems (Nirala Publications, 2008)
Lester Afflick, I Dream About You Baby (Fly By Night Press, 2008)
In A Man of Letters in the Modern Age, Allen Tate makes the compelling argument that great poetry emerges at the edge of a belief system or way of living that has fallen short. The beliefs explained things adequately (or at least plausibly) and the mode of living operated functionally at one time, but now they have been outdistanced by events. Both poets to be discussed here operate at this edge, branching out in extraordinary ways from fundamental impasses.
The title of Yuyutsu RD Sharma’s book, Annapurna Poems—Annapurna is the Nepalese name for Mt. Everest—would make one doubt Tate’s thesis insofar as, while political systems and societies change, one hardly expects radical alterations in primeval mountainscapes, especially those inaccessible to mining. However, Yuyutsu’s subject is the intertwinement of the social and geographic, namely, how even the Himalayas were dirtied and damaged by partisan politics. In the early 2000s, insurgent warfare between the army and guerillas made it impossible for anyone to visit the mountains. “The Maoists closed Annapurna Conversation Area Project [which oversees visits to the uplands] … and (May 2002) set fire to a tourist resort in Pokhara valley.” Yuyutsu’s purpose in writing this is to remember the people and landscapes of rural Nepal, which are now inaccessible. This, he says, became “a mission I could live on for the rest of my life with a purpose.”
In conversation, the poet told me that the one thing he wished to convey to Westerners was that, for his people, the mountain ranges are not simply pushed-up rock formations, but religio-mystical entities. In the poems, this sacred energy appears in sexual, rather than theological, form; his incredibly tangy descriptions of crags and cliff faces swell with eroticism. Take these vivid images: “The face/of water crashing/on the black phallus/of rock,” or “Rivers whose permanent/paramours were those lush green mountains,” or
I see fragment of a cloud
Stuck like a poet
In the green crotch
Of the gorge, utterly alone.
In some of his most stunning works, the theme of the recalled sensuality of the heights is doubled when he re-encounters an old flame, now long-married, who is visiting, in Nepal, at the Little Paradise Lodge. They have taken very different paths over the years, since she hastened “to rush [from their country] to Hawaii on a scholarship./I stayed back to count wounds of my people/dancing in crooked mandala of hunger.”
The last-quoted line, about his ex-lover’s move to Hawaii, coincidentally leads directly to the impossibility at the heart of Lester Afflick’s book, I Dream About You Baby, which turns on national displacement.
Afflick's family moved to New York City from Jamaica when he was sixteen and, like many immigrants, he looks back with some nostalgia at the land from which he was transposed. The extraordinary gambit of Afflick is that he doesn’t look back with bittersweet fondness, but fashions poetry that finds traces of Kingston in Manhattan, and not in obvious sources, such as music or retained folkways, but in frayed, if precise, contours of everyday life.
Afflick reflects, “as this way the poem/comes, in tatters;/a foggy disrepair” or on a stormy night, “Closer, stronger/in rhythm with the clouds/the moon, roseate dragon, rises, rose, is risen … Wind too, comes/a mauling reciprocity/off key, inundating, unwinding.”
Like Yuyutsu, Afflick infuses his poems with eroticism. In the expertly crafted “House Without,” he surveys the space he shared with his ex-girlfriend, and the regret and celebration engendered by every nook, furnishing, and even the weather passing through the window.
Curtains fuming a slow
tango, snarl. Vases.
Empty vases plot
their forever upcoming
reunion with the long ago
way overdue flowers which
are not coming now. Or ever
Each poet appears best in full regalia, that is, in the modulation of complete poems. And both, too, give us books that are, for all the failings they see around them, affirmations of a world about which they could say, as Afflick does about a woman he loves, that “she misunderstood perfectly.”