Meditations on love and wisdom in a slim poetry collection from Naik (English/Shree Ambaji Arts Coll.; Poetry Manifesto, 2010, etc.).
The collection opens promisingly, with tender minimalist lines appropriate for the romantic feelings that words can only partially convey: “I’d then begun / to hear wings // in empty spaces. / A song // in the desert / of my heart.” Love becomes lost, however, which seems to change the speaker and alter the city. Featuring a spider, a crab, and a chameleon, the section entitled “Mirrored Men” briefly muses on the problem of deceit. The penultimate section, “At the Shore,” brings a breath of fresh air, as reflection turns outward. There’s at least a metaphorical shoreline to look at, and though the second poem is titled “Illusion,” subsequent images revive genuine desire in all its startling unseemliness: “the octopus / of desire / stirs / arteries and veins // tears flesh apart / feeding upon fire / swallowing air.” Finally, the city comes into focus, darkly. The ghost of T.S. Eliot walks here, in the “unreal” city, and there’s a sense of a skeletal grid beneath the live, human flow. Even the “vicious maps / snaking streets / and crossroads” echo the opening of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” though Naik’s home in Gujarat, India, has a notably different pace and aspect. The English syntax here could benefit from occasional smoothing. “Self Portrait,” for instance, opens with just six words: “I / wake up / to see my / Self,” followed by five utterly blank pages, finished by the closing line, “discovered beyond thought.” This abyss-making is playful but empty; if the poet “cannot afford // to look at himself,” why should we?
Aiming toward philosophical, even existential concerns, these light-fingered lyrics leave too much unsaid.