By turns religious, romantic, and political, this collection shows readers a skilled poet coming into his own.
Osmani (In the Footsteps of Rumi…, 2013, etc.) has published three previous volumes of verse, but in this one, he shows further maturation as a writer, and it’s a delight to watch. Among his talents is an ability to strike a delicate balance between humor and tragedy; few poets can do so without making the laughs feel impertinent and the grief feel insubstantial, but Osmani does. In “Smart Bombs,” for example, he offers a darkly comic description of “precision-guided munitions” that “ring door-bells wherever they go. / Standing by politely, respectfully, / as women and children stream out.” The fact that the exact opposite is true only makes the “joke” hit harder. “Guantanamo Blues” is a touching, tactful tribute to prisoners of the war on terror who’ve gone so long without freedom and without trial. It also shows readers the poet’s political side, which he only shows occasionally but to great effect. “Countries Are Corporations, My Friend,” for example, tweaks former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney while lamenting the nationalism that divides people. “Drone Open Season” effectively captures the moral tensions that this newest form of warfare provokes: “Can’t catch them alive; / a dilemma if they survive.” The bulk of this slim volume, though, touches on spiritual and ethical topics. In one of the best poems, the clever “0 for 3,” Osmani writes humbly and succinctly of the American culture’s skewed value system: “In a culture that values / wealth, looks and youth, / I am 0 for 3. /… / In a society that fosters / greed, cunningness, and arrogance, / I am 0 for 3.” Perhaps the only small snag in this otherwise accomplished work is the author’s use of the word “Sufiesque” to describe it. Sufism is a popular, mystical form of Islam that has produced some of the most influential, most read poets in the world, among them Rumi and Attar. In his introduction, Osmani defines Sufism in terms of “its tradition of viewing human existence in a much wider context than what can be encompassed by ritualistic dogma.” He casts an awfully wide net with this description, and it’s difficult to see what is Sufi—much less “Sufiesque”—about much of this collection. However, the way a poet labels his own work doesn’t matter much if that poetry is good, and Osmani’s is.
A strong poet is perceptive, eloquent, and thoughtful—and Osmani is three for three.