With his poetry collection Eyes of Optimism and Pupils of Faith, Shayan Raei signals his alliance with poets like William Blake, Kathleen Raine and Rainer Maria Rilke, who showed how poetry could express the language of the spirit and articulate the near-miss, always, of the ineffable.
“How to speak of the unknown?” Raei queries in one poem. In another, he exclaims: “There’s always been a mystery, a/ way to one’s revealing’s…,” and in a third, as a synecdoche to much of his verse, he states, “I want God’s presence/ Reading in between the lines/ To get his message and true essence.”
In addition to his poems about spiritual connections, Raei offers verse about friendships and romantic relationships, about authentic existence and the difficulty of being present amidst the intrusions of the busy, modern world. His poems are highly introspective and, at times, hyper-critical. “Your overzealously ways,” he comments concerning a girlfriend, create “jealousy games/ A sort of attention you aim to maintain/ Till the point the games are not cool.”
Except for a spattering of poignant metaphors (a relationship is described, for instance, as “a cabbage that rotted whilst” the author “kept peeling for more”), the language is tediously abstract and, at times, trite. “With great power, comes great responsibility,” the author advises, and “Not all those who wander are lost,” he assures in a trope borrowed from Tolkien.
What gives this book potential, however, is the author’s eagerness to ask the same, difficult questions the authors we trust have asked. While Rilke’s “life is not this steeply sloping hour,” Raei’s is not “the next phone” with “higher & wider screens to view….”
Raei knows how to ask important questions, fearlessly, and readers will find some interesting thoughts here. But further work on poetic diction could imbue those questions with the searing power they lack in these pages.
Also available as an ebook.