STANDING ABOVE A SIGH by Azadeh  Azad

STANDING ABOVE A SIGH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of poetry that examines themes of exile, joy, loss, feminism, and political repression.

In the eight parts of this compilation, Azad (Thus Speaks Mother Simorq, 2018, etc.) often draws on her own experience as an emigrant from Iran to Canada to consider a range of concepts that touch on separation and connection. The first section, aptly named “Lightness,” sets a mood of joyful expectation in such pieces as the opening poem, “Overture to Spring,” in which the speaker makes ready for the end of winter by cleaning out a birdbath, singing as she scrubs out the slimy bowl in anticipation of goldfinches who will fluff and play there; indoors, she says, “butterfly spirits / waltz in through the walls.” Other poems in this book share this speaker’s sense of possibility and spiritual connection, such as “Taming My Animus,” which appreciates how the narrator’s “inner man” allows her imagination to blossom. But the poems generally take a darker turn, addressing emotional distance; exile and diaspora; the loss of a child; a friend’s suicide; and government oppression, particularly of women in Iran. Although these poems can be powerful, many of them are simply bald statements of political stances. For example, in “Mullahs Cannot Block Our Declamations,” the speaker bemoans how “Women wishing to be treated as people, / … / find themselves in the solitary confinement / of the Republic of Discrimination.” Such lines lack subtlety, but Azad does offer cleverer, more artful poems.

“Cinema Paradiso,” for example, is entirely constructed of real-life movie titles: “Wings of desire / Heart like a wheel // A man and a woman / Made for each other.” The poem works on its own, apart from the conceit, while also displaying the evocative lure of a good title. Another ingenious piece is “House Wanted,” which imagines the needs of exiles, “A family of five…(million Iranians)” in terms of a classified ad; the fixer-upper they seek “Ideally is / Woman-friendly with / Access to cable democracy.” Others use rhyme, alliteration, and varying verse forms effectively. In “A Garden in Galicia,” for example, the haiku stanzas are more powerful for their compression, saying more with less. “Epiphany” tells an Innu girl’s story, achieving a spooky quality—like a night breeze in dark forest—through rhyme, assonance, and repeated sibilants: “She said she missed her missing / mother, who was nothing but stories / of gaps, ghosts, and dark places, / who shape-shifted into cypress / … / and other displaced faces.” “A Room Full of Joy,” an optimistic poem despite references to “illusions,” “scars,” “burst bubbles,” and “past tears,” concludes with a forthright statement of resiliency: “Don’t be surprised / to see how / my sorrows rise / for lack of / weight.” Here, Azad subtly uses rhyme (“surprised” / “rise”) to lift the stanza, isolating “weight” on a single line, as if to suggest its powerlessness.

Searching poems that often make effective use of language, though some are overly polemical at times.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5255-1366-4
Page count: 156pp
Publisher: FriesenPress
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2018




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