Contemporary Poets by Thomas Riggs

By Thomas Riggs

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Tucson, Arizona, Sun/Gemini Press, 1987. A Nostalgist’s Map of America. New York, Norton, 1991. Critical Studies: ‘‘The Sorrows of a Broken Time’’ by Emmanuel Nelson, in Reworlding: Writers of the Indian Diaspora, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1993; in Indian Literature, 145(5), September 1991; by Neile Graham, in Poet Lore, 87(1), spring 1992; by Sudeep Sen, in Poetry Review, 83(1), spring 1993. Agha Shahid Ali comments: My poetry has all along revealed a triple heritage (through certain historical permutations, of course), of which I have only in the past few years become truly conscious: Hindu, Muslim, and Western.

Bones are symbolic of a now dead world that will not reply to his interest. ’’ In Memory of Begum Akhtar focuses on the old Delhi of the Mughals. There is an elegiac feeling of a rich but lost past. The great singers of the past become symbols for a history Ali cannot live as he attempts to find links and continuity with his origins. L. Saigal’’ is celebrated as such a link: ‘‘Nostalgic for my father’s youth, / I make you return / his wasted generation . . ’’ In the title poem the elegy for the great singer Begum Akhtar has the concise, oblique, lyrical qualities and the music and pattern of the oriental ghazel: 19 ALI feelings are expressed parabolically, statements are left standing on their own, and the poem feels like a song made up of lyric phrases.

Again the calm, oblique style gives a shocking punch to the poem. The love poems in this volume are, to say the least, astringent. ‘‘Advice to a Discarded Lover’’ begins by describing a bird’s corpse and then goes on to warn the lover that ‘‘. . in you / I see maggots close to the surface. You are eaten up by self-pity, / Crawling with unloveable pathos . . ’’ Relationships get equally short shrift in Adcock’s next volume, High Tide in the Garden, where ‘‘Against Coupling’’ begins, I write in praise of the solitary act: of not feeling a trespassing tongue forced into one’s mouth .

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