Neeman Sobhan’s debut poetry collection, Calligraphy of Wet Leaves
, takes its title from the poem “Wet November” within the anthology. It is an apt choice, as a strong sense of nature, of the seasons, permeates throughout the collection, anchoring human experience of place to the surrounding natural world. Sobhan is a Bangladeshi poet and writer who has been living in Italy since 1978. The collection is a record of her life as well as a tribute to the many places she’s inhabited, and is thus divided into the two categories, “Soul Spaces” and “Painted Pictures.”
“Soul Spaces” contains 22 poems that are largely about self-mediation, introspection and acute observations on everyday life. Poems such as “How to Write a Novel” ruminate on the poet’s interpretation of her creative process. Others, such as “Pergola of Dreams” and “Alzheimer’s Ghost” juxtapose two sides of life: One in which memories are under our control and another where we become caricatures within memories.
The second portion of the collection, “Painted Pictures,” contains 13 poems, where the poet takes readers on a nostalgic exploration of her most cherished places in Italy. The penultimate poem, “False Homecoming” finds the poet back in a new apartment in Dhaka. After her return, she finds the city alien to her and realises that wanderers never truly come home, their home is in their wandering. The collection ends with “Cascade,” where the poet uses a waterfall as a metaphor for her own life.
Sobhan’s strength is in the creation of poetic atmosphere. She is able to transport readers to places and memories through her vivid use of sound, imagery and personification.
Higher up in hidden caves
where no one ventures,
and the only sounds
are of the ululant gulls,
unseen vistas live out their hermit lives.
What makes the collection most interesting is its very personal, self-reflective nature. The exploration of physical places and spaces is beautifully juxtaposed with a very personal journey through the poet’s memories, her self-realisations.
Zarin Rafiuddin reviews books for Arts & Letters.