By chance, I received requests to review two very different books at around the same time – one a groundbreaking, experimental novel written entirely in numbers, the other this volume of poetry which harks back to the first Elizabethan era, before such wonders as our digital age were dreamed of.The contrast made me more keenly aware of the traditional feel of these poems, consciously written in neo-classical style. It also reminded me that one of the many virtues of self-publishing is that it allows work that might not be in keeping with modern market trends to see the light of day. All the better to allow an unsurpassed range of options for the reader!
In Glimpses of Insight, Asif Barkhiya addresses the traditional topics of formal poetry: truth, beauty, mortality, morality, spirituality, as suggested by the titles of many of the poems (“Quests for Truth”, “Spiritual Aspiration”, etc). I especially liked the first poem in the collection, “Robe of Piety”, which sets the tone for the book.
Ornate Language from a Bygone Age
The language is ornate, using vocabulary of the Elizabethan age (“nay, “tis”, “verily”) and consciously literary words to conform to the neo-classical model. I had to look one of them up – “orison”, and the dictionary definition said “literary word for prayer”. There’s also a strong undercurrent of an Indian style of philosophy, in the poems’ sincerity, earnestness and seriousness, combined with a certain idealistic unworldliness and simplicity. It is an intriguing blend. While this may not be everybody’s cup of tea, I found it refreshing.
Complex Poems, Simple Presentation
The presentation of the poems within the book is pleasingly simple and traditional: a single poem per page, each one around 8-10 lines long, with the heading emboldened above, and every line centred. The expanse of white space around each poem sets it off nicely, so that the elaborate language never feels overwhelming. You feel you know where you are with this book: it’s a “proper” book of poetry.
Knowing that the author is Indian born but currently resident in the Middle East, I wanted to know whether English was his first language. His use of English is so sophisticated and assured that I thought it might be. I discovered that his first language is Urdu, (although he has studied and read primarily in English – clearly very widely), which makes this book a particularly remarkable achievement. He’s been writing poetry for 13 years.
This Poet Would Welcome Other Reviews
Although I’m always happy to review poetry, I am very conscious that I am not a poet myself. I am about as likely to write a convincing poem as I am to fly. But I’d be very interested to read reviews of this book by other poets to see how they feel the author’s work fits in alongside trends in 21st century poetry. If you’re a poet, or know of any poets who enjoy writing reviews, I know that Asif Barkhiya would be most grateful if you could review his work. You may even like to review each other’s work – and again I am thankful that the digital age allows writers easily to share their work in this way, wherever in the world they happen to be writing.
I am wary of publishing Asif Barkhiya’s email address here, and he doesn’t have a website, but if you’d like to be put in touch with him, let me know, and I’ll be happy to connect you.