Sunday, June 21, 2009

China Bay Blues by Afdhel Aziz

I have two favourite Sri Lankan poets. Vivimarie van der Poorten (whom I have reviewed earlier) is one and Afdhel Aziz is the other. In this book of poetry, Afdhel Aziz crams a staggering 93 poems and one short story into his first collection of poetry. Interspersed with interesting photographs by Shehani Fernando (though if you took the photographs out, you wouldn’t have missed them), the poems are light, deep, frivolous, tender, passionate, imaginative, jazzy … let me stop there, or else I would run out of adjectives. So, what do I like about this book?
I like that China Bay Blues is modern, snappy and yet there are poems that turn my insides to water. I like that China Bay Blues has love poems written by a guy, is patriotic without being Sinhala Buddhist, and male bonding is between father and son. I like that China Bay Blues finishes with prose in the form of a short story that is to me still like a long poem.
Afdhel Aziz uses language that he is comfortable with. Don’t look here if you want village lasses, odes to ancient kings or chaste love poems. Instead you have raw sensuality: For instance:

Your naked body is silhouetted against
The bare boards of the wooden floor
as you tread softly to the window and
look at the quiet square below the window.

The line of your back
as you lean out, hiding
your skin with the curtain

Now is the time to live. (Quartert, Kandy)

It is like a scene from a movie. I can imagine the scene. And that is perhaps what I get out of each of his poems. Strong imagery that creates such a vivid scene, I can say almost say: I was there! The best part of it, is that his poetry speaks to me. It says what I want to say to lovers, parents, countrymen – just better than I could ever do.
The poems address a multitude of topics. His poem titled Patriot has this great line:

‘So will you die for your country?’
Surprised, I counter
‘Surely it is better to live for it?’

What a great concept? It takes the idea of patriotism that has been traditionally thought of in one way and turns it on its head. With Sri Lanka currently poised at the crossroads, perhaps its worth to take such an attitude towards our countrymen.
Afdhel Aziz is perhaps one of our truly modern poets writing in English. He takes everyday objects and traces the multiple lines of historical meaning. He writes about the hummingbird, about a secret garden, a tattoo, a light house, a radio song. He is obsessed about jazz. And reading his poems on jazz have made me aware of the sounds, the rhythm, the feeling:

Sweet soulful song
from shiny brass horn
fingers moving like hydra
as the notes sound high up
to the heavens

like butterflies hovering
around the wings of a sail
curved in the breeze

pursed lips, brow furrowed
in concentration, as
cheeks puff in prayer

air turns to gold
and the wind sings along
the memory of home
the echo of jazz
when Miles plays . . . (Miles away)

It has been too long since Afdhel gave us another collection of poetry. Afdhel Aziz, I await.

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