There is a calm, quiet dignity to the words in Israfil Sahibdeen’s slender volume, Poems, that speak of a life lived deeply and thoughtfully. A native of the Caribbean island, Trinidad, Sahibdeen writes of the universal experiences of doubt, loss, faith, travail and, however fleeting, triumph and love.
The book begins with a kind of invocation of the Muse, in this case, the poet’s grandfather: “Grandpa! / Grandpa! / Is that you? / Many voices in ONE / like sounds of trumpets / from heaven…” Though the grandfather is dead (“Did we not leave you / sleeping in grave’s bed?”), it is by these many voices still speaking that Sahibdeen finds his grandfather still present.
In “Call Him,” Sahibdeen effectively employs repetition, rhyme, and rhythm to create a poem of praise and hope: “Where in the World / You’re in doubt / Call Him / Go on and shout…” The reiteration of structure and phrase through six stanzas gives this seemingly simple poem a hushed and hymn-like feeling.
At their best, the poems evoke a sense of enigma and sacrament: “Poetry– / Reality or mystery.” When the poet applies this idea with imagination and precision, this credo transforms the commonplace. There are many times, however, when Sahibdeen doesn’t find the right mix of the specific and the abstract, and the writing becomes too vague and general to be effective (“What is love? / What is hate? / Is it not love that comes from deep within one’s heart? / Is it not hate that comes from deep within one’s heart?”).
The book could be much improved by the poet going deeper into the grain of his own life and his community. His task is to clear away the trite and vague to deliver the concrete details of his life that give rise to the feelings expressed. This would result in a much more powerful presentation overall.
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