Anisur Rahman’s book Lost Poems is a wonderful poetry collection and one of intrinsic value for poetry lovers. Born in Bangladesh, Anisur now shares his time between Bangladesh and Sweden; and his compositions straddle the two regions like a ubiquitous spirit.
In an interview, Anisur reveals that Lost Poems is a title he contrived from a sad instance that happened during a visit to the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden, with his family some years ago. During that time Anisur’s wife, Rashida Asma’s bag, that carried original poetry manuscript in Bengali, was stolen from a hotel lobby. The original Bengali version was never recovered. The poems in Lost Poems, according to the poet, are therefore a manifestation of the poems in English and Swedish that survived, thus leading the poet to choose the title.
Poetry should strive to embody a human soul, and not just be an arrangement of words and sounds on a page. It should not just be an aesthetic word-play, but should be deeply rooted in the soil on which it is planted and germinates. It should be responsive to the surrounding world of human sufferings, human hopes and despair, and an attempt to breathe meaning into all these. Poetry should concern itself with human activities so as to give us true meaning of our life and reason for existence.
Anisur’s poems in the book deals with political and social issues, particularly in Bangladesh where the author was born and Sweden where he currently resides, issues that are similar to those in my country Kenya where I live. As the author writes in one of his poems, “Portrait of a Poet” poetry should concern itself with humanity:
It is difficult for one to understand,
What is more important to a poet—
Is it poetry or humanity?
Or the poetry is humanity...
The piece supports the idea that poetry should carry a soul with it, and be about human passion and compassion. Having interacted with his dramatic works, Dawit Isaak, a play, and I am Sheikh Mujib: an Epic Monologue, I am persuaded that Anisur Rahman’s poetry is influenced largely by his background in theatre. His use of rhetorical questions and simple language can be seen to be shaped by speech-style of character-interactions in his published plays and monologues. And true to this impression, he has poems in this collection, such as “Talking about a Theatre and a Show”, which unmistakeably allude to his stage activities.
Notable style in his poetry is the employment of two motifs: the “time” and “dream”. The world being what it is – “//Many things to do, many places to go/Mobile, computer, internet, home and office/Job and family, friends and relatives//” – seems to swamp the poet’s mind to such an extent that he is left bewildered and confused. Being in a hurry to run, he has no time for all these. However, he seems to be walking ahead, faster, leaving the world behind him and, in his haste, he stops every other time to wait for it, thus becoming restless and agitated. The time motif reflects the author’s personality. I have met with Anisur Rahman before and he is time-conscious and always in a hurry. Using a “bird” and a “fish” in the poem, “Statue of Liberty”, to allude to himself and the world around him, he states:
There flies a bird in the sky
Its mind is restless, the time is tiring
It flies over village after village, land after land
There floats a fish in the waters
Its time is restless, mind is tiring
It moves on waters after waters
In making reference to a “bird” and a “fish” in this poem, the time-motif in Anisur’s poetry manifests itself. In the poem, both the bird and the fish are restless, just as the poet Anisur is in his personal life; his impatience growing out of the world that is slow, with the inability to keep pace with him. In the poem, “Train”, he uses the train as a symbol of time. In this composition, the train runs fast, leaving behind homes, dust, people’s eyes and faces, etc. To him, he and all those like him, are more or less, like a train: “fast ” at the speed of time. To the poet the train is time and time is the train, both are the same, both are him, or them who are like him, both are life, both are the time-conscious people, those who do not look left or right as they strive to reach their destinations, their dreams. As one can not “pull this train holding its ears in his hand” so is society that cannot hold down one’s success or ambition, or delay it, or thwart a talent’s effort from succeeding, or from realizing itself.
Like the “time” motif, the “dream” motif, is also prevalent in Lost Poems. The word “dream” appears in poems such as “The First Fight in Tranås” and “The Mind in a Colour Brush” with the “dream” and “mind” used interchangeably here. Both refer to the part of the poet’s body that conjures up imageries and symbols. In “The Mind in a Colour Brush” the poet states:
In dream I make imaginary stories
I open the doors of my mind, keeping aside the eyes
Am I one’s the colour brush only?
Who is she? Do you know that?
You say the mind, in fact do you agree on that?
According to the author, one cannot survive without “dreams”, or a “mind” that builds imageries and symbols. To Anisur, the creation of poetry is mandatory and a necessity. It is evident from this poem that, to the author, composing poems is essential and indispensable. This takes me back to the preliterate society in Africa, especially among the Gusii community, where if you were a man, you were expected to know how to compose and sing omoino, a poem; you had to have knowledge of the literary language of the people, without which you were mocked and despised, and hence an oral poem from the community satirizes your lack of creativity. The poem sung as follows:
Mogaka otachi ’meino
(An elder who can’t sing poems)
Agende mwa Kwamboka o’Biranya
(Should visit Kwamboka o’Biranya)
Asibore emeino n’ebitonga
(And fetch basketfuls of poems)
Achie kona gotera mwaye
(Which he could sing back at his home)
The oral piece is a sarcastic take on the man in the Kenyan Gusii community who lacks the skill to display his literary compositions. The said man is told to go to the home of Kwamboka, a woman in the neighbourhood, and collect a basket full of poems to take back to his house to sing them. In those days, in many African communities, it was a sad mockery for a man to be referred to a woman for his source of literary skills.
In his other piece, “Heart is Empty, Poems are Nothing” Anisur tells us that poetry in his community (just as in my community in Kenya), was in existence long before we had computers and laptops. Anisur states:
Even those days when they had no pen and paper
But there were poets, there were poetry and beauties
They had minds, they had hearts, they had urge to meet
Hearts sought for hearts, minds met minds after all
In conclusion, we can infer that Anisur’s poems tackle issues in the community in which he lives or has lived. He is a social commentator, and a mouthpiece of the society from whence he hails.
Christopher Okemwa is a poet and theatre director. He teaches literature at Kisii University, Kenya.