A Review of Ayaz Pirani’s
Happy you are here
The Word Works 2015
By Margaret Crawford
Ayaz Pirani is a poet with a strong social conscience. Drawing upon a diverse framework of writers to give range to his poetic voice, Pirani merges his words with their words in response to an eclectic mix of stories and themes. This in absentia collaboration links his work with a wider community of writers, producing a unique conversation that would not have been possible outside this circle of voices.
Pirani’s writing is intimate, yet public. Skillfully weaving ordinary topics of love, family, and religion into extraordinary images of the human condition, he brings a broad spectrum of issues into his poetry, including displacement, poverty, and war. Although his voice is serious as he deals with these intense topics, a lighter tone also comes through in much of his writing. Children, nature, and beauty emerge from backdrops of devastation, giving his readers tangible evidence of life, renewal, and hope.
Nowhere are these themes more evident than in “Girl without Limbs.” Pirani uses the startling image of a child “beggar” with “no arms” to show the strength of the human will to survive, even in the most desperate of circumstances. He brings disparate images from Ambai (C. S. Lakshmi, Tamil writer and feminist) into his work – “Not impurities alone are burnt in the fire. / Buds and blossoms too are blackened” – redirecting the reader’s focus from the initial image of the child’s physical deformity to the delicate beauty that is also part of her. Further contrasting elements document her story: “She lay on cardboard / like a doll dropped from / a dog’s mouth.” Imaged against the cardboard like a discarded toy, the small figure stands out in bas relief and is not easily dismissed from the reader’s vision. Yet beneath this grim depiction of childhood, a remnant of hope – ragged, but real – emerges from the distorted images of play. Not content to simply write the child into the role of passive victim, Pirani gives her agency through the role of “beggar.” The act of begging becomes the girl’s defense against poverty and stands as clear evidence of her will to survive. The life force within the child – that same spirit that is within us all – is not readily extinguished, even in the most desperate of circumstances.
Beneath the complex layers of ideas and images of his poetry is Pirani’s fascination with the power of words, both written and spoken. He brings this lexical potential into his writing, capturing the reader’s attention with graphic images created from carefully constructed text. Often disturbing and unforgettable, Pirani’s poetry forms an eclectic grouping of stories, questions, and prophesies that vie for the reader’s attention. His agenda is clearly a call for answers, and he writes from an obvious need to question, to arrive at some truth or understanding. This quest appears as dialogue in many of his poems: “Ghalib asks” (“Ghalib”), “Kabir asks” (“Kabir”), and “We’ll ask each other, we’ll ask ourselves” (“Holiday in Necropolis”). “Girl Without Limbs” is part of this journey of discovering and uncovering, allowing the author to give voice to private queries about the child’s circumstances: “I wondered how they / had come off?” Pirani links past trauma with present circumstances through this pointed question, encouraging readers to think about the child in a past time, as well as in an altered physical state, which opens up the possibility of further change. While it is possible that factors beyond human control have established the reality of the child’s physical condition, the potential to improve her future may still lie within human grasp. Pirani sends out a call for action with these possibilities, invoking social change through his words.
Pirani’s poetry is not an easy read, but the richness of humanity that he brings to the page makes the struggle to understand his work a rewarding exchange. The unique collaboration between the poet’s voice and the voices of other writers invites readers to become part of a chorus seeking to alleviate human suffering. Accept the invitation – Pirani will be “happy you are here” (52).
Currently living in California, Pirani was born in Tanzania, and grew up in Canada. He attended Vermont College of Fine Arts, and studied Humanities and Writing at College Glendon in Toronto and at Concordia University in Montreal. Happy you are there is his first book.