BY STEFFEN HORSTMANN

REVIEWED BY SMITHA SEHGAL

‘Shahid, you’re inside the fire, searching for the dark’

Rabindranath Tagore in his essay on nursery rhymes starts with a caveat that proper critics carry a pairs of scales ascribing to works a certain weight whereas those who through ignorance and inexperience (counting himself in) are unable to ascribe such weight, base their criticism on pleasure or displeasure. In a poetry workshop where an exercise was given to the participants each day, ghazal was one of the challenges enthusiastically attempted by the novice, who set out to the task akin to shaping clay into beautiful painted pots. However, viewed from the perspective of a critic, most of the works produced did not qualify as ghazals. He maintained that practitioners themselves should know and understand the form before at-tempting to write it and maintaining a stress pattern is inherent and not easy to locate and master for everyone. This argument was pitched on a statement that Agha Shahid Ali had pointed out that Adrienne Rich who had tried to write ghazals did not understand the form.

A non-inclusive statement, one wonders, and if so, at what point of evolution did man write poetry? Was it needed to express while being absorbed in the quest of concealed emotions? At what point did the basic form of expression of poetry diverge into patterns influenced and shaped by the cultures in which they were adopted? Could anyone claim authentically that ghazal or haiku belonged to a specific geographical region? Could ghazal or haiku claim protection under geographical indications under intellectual property laws which protect creations of mind, the natural sequester being a restricted entry? It is another argument though to say that ghazal or haiku was influenced, enriched and nurtured by practitioners in certain geographic regions.

Poetry has to be universally inclusive to achieve its objective. Ruminating on these lines, Steffen Horstmann’s Jalsaaghar is an unhesitating step into the world of ghazals as a poetic form, beneath a rain bow umbrella which seeks to transcend the borders drawn by maps, cultures and languages. A Japanese ghazal illustrates Horstmann’s steady and unwavering intention to have the critics and pleasure seekers sit up and notice and decide for themselves whether they would like their protection-ism be challenged with this brave foray or would they prefer to welcome and hail this as a remarkable new world order in the realm of poetry.

The fragrance of chrysanthemums in a tea house Through paper walls a geisha’s shadow bows *

Sunlit water beneath Saihoji temple ~ in a minnow’s Transparent body the diminutive heart pulses *

Basho sips hot saki in the temple at Suma beach ~

The ebony ocean studded with the duplicate of stars.

Or consider this,

Issa listens for poems in the wind’s exhalations,

Likens koans to tangled wisteria vines

There is no beloved, only ‘you’ or ‘I’. The realm of love between two individuals does not limit the conversations. The love, which shimmers through the ghazals, is a universal love, transcending the individualistic approach and limitations. Horstmann unassumingly converses with the reader in an intimate tone, yet without losing his ground. You become a traveller and Horstmann your guide, by the Palace of Bodhisattvas, beneath the defiled Thracian tombs, lemon roses carpeting the avenues of Guadalajara and delta of Nile.

A crescent moon dissolves in an estuary’s pool of blue light

As wraiths mimic the voices of pharaohs in the Nile Delta

He takes upon himself the task of being our pair of eyes to a world where love coexists with hope, disappointment and loss.

Cassandra dreams of ships gliding on waves of fire

An omen of war the sea repose belies today

Or

Moths with flaming wings whirled in smoke that rose

From pyres on the Manikarnika Ghat.

Poetry is a land where one need no passport to migrate and one can soak in the sun light of words, and at nightfall let moon and stars illuminate your soul. Akin to God in creation, Horstmann seek to breathe life into inanimate objects. Consider the expressions he coins with ‘indigo waves, arced blaze of autumnal light, blistering dunes, fluted curtains of rain, cobalt flames, onyx moon, phosphorescent comet, tempest stitched into fabric of sea, spectral dust’.

Each verse, despite its rich imagery, gives you a space to absorb itself, without crowding your senses. This spacing and lay out of the verses reminds oneself of the scheme of Japanese Zen Gardens.

The lucent scirocco roiling

Like a typhoon in a sea of light

Winged scarabs emerging

From a cloudy cocoon in a sea of light

He resurrects masters whom we wish we had opportunity to see in flesh and blood, with who we sit down in a private moment under a flowering lemon tree, listen to the verses.

Pushkin stole the breath of Siberia

& froze it in a sonnet

In Paradise Milton nurtures the creative seed & grows it in a sonnet

Michaux spoke of the worlds hidden inside the world & disguised a crisp prose within a sonnet

God’s name rises in calligraphy from Tagore’s palm,

Amid mountains shrouded in whirling snows~in a sonnet

The unconventional step of using the ampersand is not to be missed in the above verses.

Is poetry and its myriad forms including ghazal flourish only in the realm of poetry lovers? Are they limited for the consumption of a few academicians, critics and a few pleasure seekers while the rest of the world goes about busy in its daily chores? Or is the task of poetry and its literary traditions an escapism from the brutal realities of our world? Is it not convenient to have a poetry / ghazal book in your totte bag so that one can dip soul into it on a day when sun scorches too hard? Is that the task of poetry?

To an extent, it is true that non-readers of poetry tends to hold poetry and poetry lovers as strange creatures who have different no-tions on sun, moon, river and flowers. It is also true to a great extent that the pillars of globalisation and the events that shaped them beginning from 1758 characterized by the revolt which marked birthday celebrations of King of Prussia by stone pelting on windows to recent times marked by WTO Doha Agendas have understated the power of poetry to motivate people, communicate with each other, be each other’s eyes and hands to lead on to the other side of the world and discover how similar or different sun shines, twilight descends.

Steffen Horstmann’s work precisely sets forward to do that, establishing a new tradition. It would be an interesting evolution to look forward to.