Monday, December 29, 2008

Asher Ghaffar’s Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music

Ever since he was a child, he knew he was meant to learn how to ride the tiger, like Durga. He is not a Hindu – much less a shaman. In deep sleep, there was insentient bliss. From this he discerned that the self has no fixed boundary. It could wander into other countries, into disparate yarns. It was unmarked in dreams. It didn’t belong to race or class. It was borderless. (“On the Question of a Borderless Body”)
Anyone who wants to see a poetry collection working a more complex construction than usual should be going through Toronto writer Asher Ghaffar’s first collection, Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2008). Writing the body and the land, Ghaffar writes locations into dislocations, where one has neither completely left one place or completely entered the next, exploring the body through space and a body of poems organized into five sections, writing “Induction,” “Deduction,” “Conduction,” “Production” and “Disruption.” Ghaffar’s Wasps in a Golden Dream Hum a Strange Music is a narrative that threads through immigration and the dream of immigration, writing such wonderful dreams that sometimes fall in on themselves. This is Ghaffar writing between Canada and Pakistan, and exploring the space where language and cultures meet, clash, overlap and even begin to blend, whether writing “O Canada of hinge narratives. O Canada of opening and closing doors.” as the last line to the first poem of the final section, “Predictably, the House Was Not There” (pp 81-86), or writing:

Ears become eyes. Eyes become touch. The senses become a recipe
From a house torn down, a distraught man-as-child drinking curdled
Milk in Amristar where he met two Canadians
And gave them his Atwood. (“Dog Days”)
With final poem “Pre face” and penultimate poem titled “Chapter One,” it is as though Ghaffar has managed a poetry collection that wraps the end up into the beginning, that ends at its own point of origin, deliberately disrupting whatever narrative threads have existed up to this point. Are endings, still, what one expects in a collection of poems?
The name of ours caught almost,
almost terrible. We will not hear it
turned inside out, frozen for a moment
at a threshold. We will not hear absence
upon fossilized absence, the last footsteps
to leave the room, the strum of blood
through vessel upon vessel.
How the body persists,
building itself on the tomb of labour. (“Meanwhile, A Continent Away”)

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