A book review
Bangladesh now has another published poet writing in English to join the burgeoning scene of its English writing. Journeyman Books released Eeshita Azad’s debut poetry collection, Elegiac Songs, during the Ekushey Boi Mela 2018.
Azad has been writing for several years, but not till this year has she shared her own work more widely with the public.
By definition, elegies lament for the dead. In Greek and Latin verse, they were written in elegiac couplets, with Ovid, Propertius, and Catullus as the best known writers of this form. However, in its modern dimension, elegies are poems of serious reflections on life.
The elegies in Elegiac Songs come under five categories: Wistful, Playful, Hopeful, Truthful, and A Fool. Though Azad doesn’t seem to follow a strict structure, her poems are elegies in the sense that every poem is a reflection and particularly noteworthy is the nature of her reflections, some of which are very personal while some others are not so personal at all.
Under the category of Truthful, there is a poem which stands out for its subject matter: “Death Wish & Words.” The poem was written from the point of view of a female garment worker speaking to her husband. It’s just another morning for her, when she, as usual, “cooked, cleaned, made beds, bathed and took your children/to the neighbor’s house / got dressed to leave for the factory / packed your lunch.” However, when her husband asks, “What’s my lunch” and she answers, “Peyaj, kachamoricharattaruti,” he is enraged and expresses his dissatisfaction by punching her in the face and trying to choke her.
In “The Jump,” Azad narrates a time when she lived in London and was apprehensive about relocating back to Dhaka. She wonders whether, once she lands, she will be “full again? / Full-bellied rice sack, / full with memories of harvest / full of hope.” "Desh" and "Foreign Land" are also written in a similar vein and relate to diasporic experience.
“Dragon Tongued” imagines the narrator as a person who has been turned into a “fire breathing, flame spitting / creature of hate” who later regrets her anger when “afterwards, my throat hurts.” As she soothes the hurt with honey lemon, she contemplates the better, alternate option for when the situation will arise again, and says: “Next time we’ll try sugarcoating first!”
What has had an effect on me particularly is the way she’s captured women's experiences in the poems, i.e. "The Rebel," "Her Husband," and "Sun." It is precisely this aspect that I would say most readily appeals to readers and generates a feeling of shared experience.
Sayeeda T Ahmad is a poet and nonfiction writer. She is a founding member of The Versemongers. Her debut poetry collection, Across Oceans, was published by Bengal Lights Books.