“I am still circling/the same space of porcelain”
-yaqoob ghaznavi from his award-winning poem “Alzheimer”
A close writing friend recently wrote a column about retirement. It was a timely piece, considering that many of our friends were either retired or thinking about it. It made me wonder: “can writers retire?” What about those who have extra free time to consume? “Can you start a writing career in your silver-haired years?”
I immediately thought of poet yaqoob ghaznavi. I had just finished reading his first book under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014) and was surprised to learn that he had first discovered writing poetry in his sixties. Since that time he’s had work published in All Rights Reserved, Carousel, carte blanche, Descant, and the Toronto Quarterly in Canada as well as in publications based in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S. and Austria.
Back in 2008, The Ontario Poetry Society named ghaznavi, as the recipient of The Ted Plantos Memorial Award. At the time, John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Brantford said “The poems by yaqoob ghaznavi have clarity of image, simplicity of language, maturity of content and they come ‘real’ to the page as it is with lived experience well expressed.” See more details here.
ghaznavi certainly has a flare for words. During my blind judging for the 2010 Emerging from the Shadows Poetry Contest, I read and re-read 180 poems by new writers. The poem “Alzheimer” kept rising to my top five pile. At the time, I didn’t know it was ghaznavi’s work but I recall how the writing style pulled me into the confusing world of those suffering with Alzheimer’s. The poem placed third in the contest.
Four years later I am pleased to see it included in his first collection of poems. Below is my book review that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, a membership newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:
under the almond tree Reviewed by Debbie Okun Hill
by yaqoob ghaznavi
Premier Poet Tree Series #16 A Beret Days Book 2014, 58 pages
Canadian poet yaqoob ghaznavi writes “it is love/that makes me transparent/even over the phone” and it is love and loneliness, in all its various dimensions that form the base for under the almond tree, his first full-collection of poems. The book’s strength stems from his use of simple narrative language: minimal like a delicate dance or brushstroke of watercolour and yet, skillfully crafted to describe complex and deep emotions. For example, “I want to cut the monkey’s paw”, “lonesome waves/come to rest/after the long journey/through the melting sea” and “dreams illuminate my inside”. Reading his poetic work is like strolling through a dream montage “with centuries of wanderings”. Meet actresses “naked/as peeled cinnamon”, a character craving blueberry cheesecake, a geisha “making and breaking/her lovers”, a grandmother facing a tsunami, an immigrant yearning for his lost love/home and much more. Not only does this award-winning poet transport the reader across various heart-felt scenes in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Niagara Falls, Manhattan, New Orleans, and the Artic, but he also experiments with free verse, dialogue, glosa, and villanelle forms. Recurrent images of the moon, birds, water/rain, and circles help to reinforce such messages as “I am still circling/the same space of porcelain” and “with the dust of lilac/I glue together/my broken mirror”. Bravo! An impressive debut collection from a poet who has already attracted the attention of several judges and editors of prestigious literary magazines.