Reviews / June 2012 (Issue 17)

A Voice from the Edge

by Michael Tsang

Arun Budhathoki, Edge,, 2011. 66 pgs.

The cover of Nepalese poet Arun Budhathoki's first collection, Edge, features a black and white photograph of a man standing on a groyne facing the sea. This bleak image is a fitting introduction to the collection, letting you know in advance that it will be exploring dark emotions. Many of its poems employ imagery of corpses, withered plants and the night to evoke a sense of fragility, morbidity and entrapment. The diction also leans towards the gloomy; words such as "dull," "ugly," "wound" and "madness" permeate the collection. These are fused with images of natural and manmade objects to explore themes of death and destruction. In "Flashback," for example, Budhathoki evokes a sense of inevitable decay in a marriage of the organic and inorganic: "The fallen petals o' metallic mind/Is vacuumed voraciously."

In poems featuring a persona, the same themes of doom and fusion are also evident. In "An Elegy," the speaker constructs a peculiar sense of space in which external objects are internalised into the corporeal:

The gloomy moon
Throbs within this heart—
Pale scars exhaled.

The cold winds
Wander within these veins—
Reddish memoirs turn yellow.

The lifeless room
Slumbers within this body—
Entrapped objects multiply.

Although the collection is called Edge, one sometimes wonders if the persona has already stepped over the line into insanity.

Even those works whose titles suggest a sense of optimism, such as "Morning Poem," contain lines that make the reader frown:

It isn't morning, not even evening
Nor the darkest nights
Afternoon almost dead
The cobweb of a surviving spider.

The promise of the title is broken in the first line, "It isn't even morning, not even evening," disturbing the reader's expectations; and the rest of the poem, which lingers in a gray timelessness between day and night confounds our hopes for renewal.

The collection does shine, although rarely, rays of light into the overwhelming sense of gloom. Yet even these moments of hope are tinged with a sense of danger:

Between the breaking of light and the extinguishing of darkness
Two heavy horizontal eyes waited for your arrival
The waves crashed with each other
And left hushes on the shore
I felt it was your soft voice calling my name. ("Notes")

The windy garden blows the Cupid's shore
Upon which I murmur and roar;
Seize a love I walk and run for—
I cry, laugh and ask for more. ("A Song of Rhapsody")

Such moments present the theme of the "edge" well, for they convey the feeling when one almost loses balance on a ledge dividing life and death. The speakers of the poems have half a leg in death, but they struggle against falling into complete darkness.

The poems in this collection, particularly the ones with a persona, are very Plathian in their exploration of mortality and insanity. Indeed Budhathoki even thanks the American poet in the acknowledgements to this collection. But while Sylvia Plath is known for the directness of her confessional tone, Budhathoki has a tendency to use oblique images and multisyllabic words that sometimes disrupt meaning. The ideas which the poet intends to convey through phrases such as "asphyxiating heart" and "eucatastrophic images" could perhaps be more fully realised if he could describe—show, instead of tell—how they are asphyxiating and eucatastrophic. The poet also overuses the dated and excessively poetic contraction "o'" making lines feel contrived and affecting their flow. These quibbles aside, however, this is a courageous and well-explored debut collection.

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