In an obscure corner of our local library, underneath a staircase and next to the kind of tomes no one reads unless they have to, is one of my favourite library shelves – ‘Withdrawn from Circulation and For Sale’. Here, among books on Finnish government statistics for 1980 and the speeches of forgotten Soviet politicians, lies the possibility of finding a jewel.
My most recent discovery here is Selected Poems of Al Mahmud translated by Kabir Chowdhury.
I often read poetry in translation (in this case of a Bangladeshi poet). There are differences of outlook and imagery that I find fascinating. No English poet can write about oil lamps or the cries of monkeys as everyday experiences.
Images such as:
his lips are covered with the fragrance
of powdery flowers. …
from a short poem ‘This World and Beyond’; or this from ‘The Poet and the Black Cat – 1’:
A rider on a jet black horse comes scaling the wall.
seem to me unlikely ones for a western writer. And I loved the description of the dredger Baleshwar on the Titash river:
When the giant iron tortoise moves forward,
sawing through the bosom of the Titash,
These poems describe small scenes and actions. Some carry a feeling of sadness. The poet states:
Nowadays music does not delight me any more
and in several poems he speaks of being in prison.
A few are more cheerful when he speaks of pleasure in work and the possibilities brought to him by
the favourite devil of my heart
He encounters the ordinary in a pair of sparrows and the village belle among others, and also the mystical like angels and buildings bending low. These poems are complex and beautiful and repay re-reading.
The main effect of the book generally is of a sigh – the world is beautiful, but somehow futile.