Trauma not spoken

Irfan Ali's Accretion reviewed
Accretion by Irfan Ali

Accretion
By Irfan Ali
Brick Books, 2020

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Review by Phinder Dulai
Irfan Ali's first full length poetry book drifts into moments of the personal graphed onto cosmic love. Using tropes of the lover and beloved captured in Ali's rendering of 12th century poet Nizami Ganjavi's epic poem Layla and Majnun, this collection accretes parts mythological, part spiritual and part the prosaic life of the author in Toronto. There are many points throughout this book that reference a lover that is unknowable but who lingers in each thought, inspires the pen, becomes the mirror of every flaw, and will destroy you. The book also interweaves both koranic and biblical references as the narrator struggles through who he has become, is becoming and, at the final place, who he is amidst the collateral trauma of his life.
So much is not outwardly stated in this collection, but behind the eloquence of language lives a deep trauma not spoken.

The collection begins with the poem Reckless Abandon, a litany and “last Salaah (prayer) before the judgement day” and “roll call of my sins”. There are various images evoked in this poem including a reference to the fall of the two towers where it was “safe to turn apostate.” Thus we begin on a journey of familial regrets, metaphysical utterances, a retelling of a classical poem of lovers torn apart and the yearning to have a desiccated life be full and whole again.

So much is not outwardly stated in this collection, but behind the eloquence of language lives a deep trauma not spoken. The book is broken into five sections – Origins, Reflection, Possession, Revulsion and The Word. One of the persistent themes that re-occur is the struggle with belief and non-belief of religious faith, while still practicing the rituals of fasting and prayer. The work reflects on family relationships and the stark environment that surrounds the narrator of this work.

The landscape takes on a greater symbolic life – landscapes such as the pine forest abut the unknowable city of Toronto, there is the retelling of Narcissus at the pond in likening the narrator’s own self-image as either “the self or the fantasy.” The book is replete with classical references that form an ongoing metaphor within this collection to speak to emotional states. Along with images of the beloved escaping to the desert; there are revelations in the desert, and seeking truths in the desert and in the sands. The use of the desert echoes biblical and Koran-based stories of roaming through the desert as a test to overcome apostasy and renewing of faith.

The poem What Song Do I Sing Her speaks to the tragic truths of how a brown body is deeply influenced by white minds; that “love songs I know are issued from white-sheathed throats” and that any songs he knows cannot suffice to explain to his lover who is a “dark-skinned woman told so often she’s nothing but rage.”

What is also present throughout the book are Islamic spiritual rituals and calls to prayer; there is the drinking of the sacred water, the call to prayer facing Qibla and the making of Dua. In other spaces it is the last prayer, the last Salaah, the Sajhdah stance in prayer, the image of the Imam; all of which become ritualistic representations of faith, but a faith that is being lost to a beloved.

The final section of the book called The Word, begins with four pages of The Word in block letters beginning in faded grey and then solidifying in the last fourth page. The first poem is focussed on The Word brought in from the desert by Hazrat Isa (Jesus); and speaks to the divergences from The Word, over time and the writing of scripture. We are brought closer to the author’s struggle to be closer to god and love through this last section.

In the Death Of Cain, the narrator likens his struggles to gain purification through fire and so finds himself ready to take on the work of forgiveness and being forgiven by his father and mother. What is particularly interesting about this and many poems in this collection is the careful balance of maintaining a lived local experience while also densely referencing so many iconic religious story fragments and reference points.

reminiscent of how TS Eliot wrote similarly more than a century ago, the collection brings the reader deeply into the humanity of this work.
Accretion is a hard, complex and layered book to read in all of 65 pages, reminiscent of how TS Eliot wrote similarly more than a century ago, the collection brings the reader deeply into the humanity of this work. The collection has many registers that speak in relation to family, likening his relationship to the unknowable lover, to the story of Layla and Majnun, to coming to peace with the inherited spiritual faith of his parents; and seeking love, god, family and fraternity at the end of this long spiritual journey.

Phinder Dulai is a writer and poet living in Surrey, B.C. His poetry is published in Canadian Literature Offerings Cue Books Anthology, and other publications. He is a co-founder of The South Of Fraser Inter Arts Collective, and is the author of two poetry books. View bio.

 
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