London Grip Poetry Review – Taz Rahman



Poetry Review – EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON: Pat Edwards discerns that Taz Rahman’s poems about city life are strongly motivated by a love of the natural world


East of the Sun, West of the Moon 
Taz Rahman
ISBN 978-1-78172-734-8

With such a cosmic title, the reader is bound to expect an epic journey across the page, and to be taken to many different realms. The collection also opens with a quotation from T. S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’, an enigmatic hint that we humans know very little of who we are and of where we fit into the vast universe. So, how to begin…

Rahman starts where we all start, in the land of our ethnic background, in childhood memory. His land was one of mangoes where ‘a light is trying to creak/through the floorboards’. He talks of the broken and torn but also of fragrant cooking: ‘sound of pestle/ground holdi/churning turmeric’. However, this poet does not stay in that starting place; and next we find him in Cardiff, exposed to rain, to many genres of music, in a room ‘above a chicken shop’, where a young man considers the mighty River Taff with its ecosystem of flora and fauna. Here the poet displays great skill in capturing his wonder for nature, marvelling at tiny details amidst the Cardiff cityscape and the stone figures carved into the castle.

Throughout the work we find a dizzying mix of styles and forms, from two, three, four and five line stanzas, to the experimental “Permission” with its use of italics and lines which, to my eye, are shaped to resemble drinking or cooking vessels. The poems are littered with references to topics as diverse as Welsh and Bengali history and legend, music, philosophy, the spirituality to be found in mountains, cooking, Cardiff landmarks, and so much more. When Rahman really mixes things up as in “Trap Arachnids for Rainy Days”, we are treated to phrases such as:

Nights tremble
in puddles, beetles squirm inside
biscuit tins, chide Bhagwan, Ishwar,

In the title poem of the collection, the poet indulges in very long sections with the rare appearance of full-stops. This creates an almost dream-like quality:

I fear leaves

losing translucence to grow rings under my
eyes, make room for ageing in guttural sighs

in dim turns around each room I enter

These poems defy pigeon-holing and dare to break with many conventions. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, so be it. This is a poet with an originality of approach and a well-developed craft. You have to admire his ambition and determination not to stick to the perceived rules or poetry fashions. Speaking for myself, I had to read these poems repeatedly and do some research. Rahman expects his readers to do some work and to maybe go outside their comfort zone; but those who do are amply rewarded with rich new knowledge and sometimes exquisite language.

The image of light is a recurring theme, like a camera shutter, casting light on the poet’s life and experiences. Identity, diversity and heritage seep into the work. In “Chocolate” the poet considers what it might be like to be a person of colour fearing for their life (forward slashes are features of this poem, rather than line breaks) :

Tell her / why I cycle miles / sleep with lights on / what happens in
darkened alleys when the gods aren’t watching /…

/ and I now take the main road each time /
to reach Spar /

In “Sanctuary” Rahman tells of a stranger in the city of Cardiff:

I pretend I have arrived, made it, that I am capable of shifting
form, colour, the shape of my tongue to make up fresh sounds

Later, when feeding a duck, our protagonist says,

I want it to grip gratitude, smear my lifeline

in saliva in spite of the duck tongue incapable of dripping
endearments, but I am forgiving

I think the lingering feeling after reading this collection is that the poet seems at peace with himself in the city, but that his connection with the natural world is essential and visceral. Without it the world wouldn’t make sense and so it often invades his thoughts and finds its way into much of the work, ‘a kingfisher warming/another bank on another walk’. Rahman is at home in Wales, will ‘let a/ red dragon hovel green and white, inherit the wind.’